For years, San Jose has called itself the "Capital of Silicon Valley," and on Monday city officials hope to bolster that image by announcing a cutting-edge, free outdoor Wi-Fi network the city plans to have up and running in downtown this summer.
The partnership with Ruckus Wireless and SmartWAVE Technologies will allow anyone with a mobile device a more powerful and faster access to the Internet over a wide area, city officials say.
And in a downtown where companies are hiring tech-savvy workers, free Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury -- it's a must.
"The companies locating in our downtown feel it's crucial for them to be in downtown to attract young professionals with amenities like restaurants, parks and sidewalk cafes," said Lee Wilcox, downtown manager with the city's Office of Economic Development. "Having these young people have the ability to be out and about in downtown with access to the Web and social media with their friends is important."
"For many companies coming here, the office is no longer the traditional place where people do business," said John Hartnett, chairman of the Irish Innovation Center in downtown San Jose. "It's in cafes and out in the street. So this is a great step forward and will be very well-received."
It's also something he says is long overdue.
"San Jose claims the name 'Capital of Silicon Valley,' " Hartnett said. "But a basic commodity in the food chain is Wi-Fi, and
The city has tried. Back in 2004, San Jose was among the first big U.S. cities to provide free wireless Internet access in downtown hot spots. But service was limited to places like Plaza de Cesar Chavez, the Fairmont Plaza and San Pedro Square, among a few other areas.
Still, it was years before sales of smartphones and tablet computers soared and before data-hungry applications drove the need to overhaul most legacy Wi-Fi networks.
"We had a Wi-Fi network, but this one is bigger and better," Mayor Chuck Reed said. "As the technology has improved, we need to improve with it."
The new system will cover an area from East St. John Street to the north, portions of Balbach Street and Viola Avenue to the south, North Sixth Street to the east and Almaden Boulevard to the west. A small area near Diridon Station also will be covered.
Vijay Sammeta, the city's acting chief information officer, who spearheaded the effort to purchase the updated technology, said SmartWAVE will install and monitor dozens of the Wi-Fi devices that will be placed on streetlights, traffic poles and buildings to support tens of thousands of users simultaneously and hundreds of terabytes of traffic.
The project, funded through the city's parking revenue and general fund, has a one-time upgrade cost of about $100,000, and ongoing costs of about $22,000 a year, similar to the ongoing costs of the current system.
"The way we consume information is changing," said Sammeta of the city's need for an upgraded Wi-Fi system. "We're no longer looking at static pages. We're looking at YouTube and streaming videos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million."
The technology from Sunnyvale-based Ruckus, said David Callisch, the company's vice president of corporate marketing, extends wireless signals two to four times the distance of conventional technology. And he said it delivers better service because it's able to be tuned in a more direct way that avoids interference and obstacles, such as other nearby Wi-Fi systems, optimizing the connection with a laptop or mobile device.
Rohit Mehra, a network technology analyst with Massachusetts-based IDC, said Ruckus has a good track record in deploying Wi-Fi systems in other regions, especially in Asia, where the company has had similar rollouts. One of the company's strengths, he said, is the ability of its Wi-Fi products to connect with lower-powered devices, such as smartphones.
"From a technology standpoint, their antenna-beam-forming technology is actually fairly good," he said.
Callisch said Wi-Fi offers advantages over cellular technology: It's much faster than cellular data service, and cheaper, especially as wireless phone companies move from offering consumers unlimited data plans to capping the amount and charging for extra use in "tiered" data plans.
City Councilman Sam Liccardo, whose district includes downtown, said the new network will enhance the area's vibrancy by encouraging thousands of downtown workers to enjoy outdoor cafes and public spaces, as well as helping to create "a downtown ecosystem friendly to startups and entrepreneurs."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.