Helsinki’s City Center to be Blanketed in WiFi
I've been complaining this week about the WiFi I've had at my hotel. However, I've had one good WiFi experience this week.
Antti Tapio and his team at Omni-Directional Communication Products Oy (OCP, warning, site is not up at this writing), have established a WiFi system that will cover the majority of the Helsinki City Center with only 15 access points. This currently works outdoors and on the perimeters of buildings. Inside of buildings may be a challenge, but in some of the buildings, such as inside the Kamppi Shopping Center, full in-building coverage is planned.
"The five major WiFi operators in Finland were approached about providing WiFi inside of Kamppi," says Tapio. "None of them wanted to do it because of the large number of private access points nearby." I could pick up a half-dozen or so just where I was sitting in the Camppi Restaurant, located just inside the Kamppi Shopping Center. Tapio told me there was over a hundred access points within the City Center.
The secret sauce comes from a company called InspiAir. They have figured out a way to cover a large area using conventional WiFi with a series of directional antennas. Each of the directional antennas covers a 60 degree arc and will go a mile in an area with lots of buildings, up to three miles with less buildings, and possibly even farther if you have line-of-sight to the access point!
Tapio claims he was able to use the access point atop the Post Office in Helsinki's City Center from nearly 8 kilometers away just off the coast of Finland! The connection was acceptable at that range, but got significantly better as he got closer.
In addition to long distances, roaming between the access points is seamless and quick, with a sub-10ms handoff and minimal packet loss. The access points are connected to one another via 5.8 Ghz frequency for backhaul. The connection itself from your PC to WiFi is very fast with sub-5ms latency.
While I was not able to confirm all of the above, I can say that it was quite a feat to be able to get 3mb/s Internet access over 802.11b while sitting in a restaurant approximately a kilometer away from the access point! That's broadband speeds better than I get at home on my DSL, folks. Furthermore, I was able to see the access point at the front of my hotel, which is about two kilometers from the access point. I wasn't able to use it in the same way Tapio claimed he used it, but I'm still impressed. Considering that your typical WiFi mesh can go only about 200 meters, this technology from InspiAir takes WiFi to the next level!
Currently the service is in the process of being deployed. When the service launches in the very near future, the price for access is planned to be 3 Euros a day, 7 Euros a week, and 19 Euros a month. For people with an account on a Finnish mobile phone operator, the charge can be billed directly to your mobile or you can use a credit card. Because the service will likely require some additional tuning, the service will likely be rolled out for free in the short term.
Edit: I added a couple of sentences to clarify InspiAir's role in this WiFi deployment and clarify what I saw.