SAN JOSE -- The city that bills itself the Capital of Silicon Valley launched a new free outdoor wireless Internet access program downtown Thursday that city leaders called the fastest of its kind in North America.
"I feel the need for speed!" Mayor Chuck Reed shouted, urging the crowd of city officials, company employees and downtown business representatives to join in. "And we have it!"
San Jose officials acknowledged that past efforts to make free outdoor wireless Internet available in the city core, such as with "hot spots," had met with mixed results. Partner companies had business models that proved unsustainable, and advances in consumer technology seemed to outpace the WiFi infrastructure's capabilities.
"When we started, most people were accessing on a PC," said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. "Now, they're all on smartphones."
Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the downtown district, said he learned from a technology executive that the key to success is to "make it cool."
So city officials did their level best at channeling the chill vibes. They christened the new WiFi network "Wickedly Fast WiFi," a name dreamed up by Economic Development Director Kim Walesh.
"This is cool," Liccardo declared. "Wickedly Fast WiFi will make San Jose the place with the fastest outdoor WiFi in North America."
Liccardo then proclaimed the city's technology director, Vijay Sammeta, a "rock star" and introduced Reed as "The King of Cool."
Reed wasn't really buying that but gamely donned a day-glo safety vest, hard hat and goggles to chainsaw a mock ethernet cable to commemorate the moment.
The city partnered with two private companies for its latest outdoor WiFi venture, SmartWAVE Technologies and Ruckus Wireless, following a bidding process. SmartWAVE engineered and designed the network, and Ruckus provided equipment and support, Sammeta said.
Sammeta said Ruckus' focused-beam technology is a "secret sauce" that helps to make the new system so effective. He described the increase in speed of the new network to the one it began replacing eight months ago as the difference between going 300 mph and 10,000 mph.
San Jose also will use the network to connect some city operations located outside City Hall and to improve the speed of transactions on downtown pay-to-park meters such as those near HP Pavilion.
The city's contribution was largely in the form of its fiber-optic network and Internet bandwidth. City costs, Sammeta said, were minimal, including $94,000 for infrastructure and a $22,000 annual operating expense. That, Reed said, is important for a city that has asked employees to take pay and benefit cuts to help balance the budget.
"One of our strategies," Reed said, "is to work with other people's money."
Written and filed on the Wickedly Fast WiFi Network. Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.
San Jose's new "Wickedly Fast" outdoor WiFi network is available free downtown from East St. John Street to the north, Balbach Street and Viola Avenue to the south, North Sixth Street to the east and Almaden Boulevard to the west. To access, open up the wireless connectivity box on your laptop, smartphone or tablet. The device will then scan for available wireless networks. Select the Wickedly Fast WiFi Network and you're on. No password necessary.