In a few weeks, Janesville will take the first step toward a public Wi-Fi network downtown.
But before bringing a laptop to stream the latest season of “Stranger Things” on the Rock River, residents should know the initial network will be restricted in location and connectivity strength.
The public network will cover the ARISE Town Square and primarily will be used to control information kiosks and lighting on the Court and Milwaukee street bridges. Neither the lighting nor the kiosks—one on each side of the planned pedestrian bridge—has been installed yet, city Information Technology Manager Gordy LaChance said.
The network will have the ability to support only about 12 simultaneous connections. Barring unforeseen delays, it will be operational sometime in August, he said.
Even though the Wi-Fi will mainly support the lighting and kiosks at first, LaChance hopes a private entity will eventually take control of the system to strengthen and expand it.
The city does not have the resources to maintain the network beyond its initial rollout, which will cost about $7,000. With the town square becoming a new public event space, a more powerful network would be required if a few hundred people in the area tried to connect, LaChance said.
Janesville is partnering with Novak Networx to operate the system.
Several years ago, Novak Networx started a public Wi-Fi network in Janesville that partnered with a few businesses to provide free internet.
That network, known as the Janesville Wi-Fi Project, still exists in a limited form. Company owner Robert Novak said the town square internet is much different because its equipment has stronger capabilities.
That means someone could invest more money into the system’s bandwidth, and the equipment would be able to support a more robust network in the future, he said.
Novak was optimistic that someone else would take over the Wi-Fi. Expanding a Wi-Fi network can be relatively inexpensive because it’s done in pieces, he said.
LaChance credited council member Sue Conley with bringing the idea to his attention.
If Janesville needed Wi-Fi to support the information kiosks and bridge lighting, then it was worth exploring a community network in the area, she said.
“Cities all over the country are trying to provide that, but it can be difficult to determine what provider you use and who pays for it,” Conley said. “It’s not an easily implemented project.”
Like Novak, Conley hopes a private entity will take over the network.
LaChance encouraged residents to give the public Wi-Fi a try. Just don’t rely on it to do important work right now, he said.
Janesville will collect data on how many times people connect or try to connect to the Wi-Fi. This will give the city a better gauge of how many people would use such a network, he said.
“I think the idea is to make the town square a very attractive place,” LaChance said. “Certainly these days one of the amenities that you expect in a city is to be able to connect to some form or another of public Wi-Fi.”