Capitol is now a hotspot in more ways than one

Capitol hotspot telecommunications consultant Leo Cloutier (left) and Greg Staple, a co-founder of Open Park Project, say the free WiFi zone on Capitol Hill will advance the state of the art in wireless.

Olivier Douliery

Free WiFi zone soon will span the National Mall

On the steps of the Supreme Court, officials of the Open Park Project of Washington and Tropos Networks Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., in March turned on the first pair of a half-dozen IEEE 802.11b WiFi cells and invited the public to surf.

Open Park co-founder Greg Staple called the free WiFi zone 'a hotspot for democracy' and said it will extend by next spring along the National Mall to the Washington Monument.

Current coverage includes the areas around the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and future Capitol Visitor Center, as well as the central part of the Mall.

'We haven't tested inside any of the historic buildings,' Staple said.

Gifts and loans to the nonprofit group covered the initial costs, he said. Open Park hopes to raise about $200,000 to cover installation and operation through spring of 2005. Tropos Networks made 'a substantial donation' of equipment and services, Staple said.

Tropos spokesman Bert Williams said the company will donate enough of its Tropos 5110 WiFi cells, each consisting of a wireless access point and router, to 'cover the Mall route through a wireless mesh.'

The company's mesh topology needs only one wired Ethernet connection for the hotspot. Each cell routes to its neighbors to form what Tropos calls 'metro-scale WiFi.'

Signs instruct Capitol Hill visitors to go to www.openpark.net to use the free service. Centrino-equipped notebook PCs and some personal digital assistants will automatically sense it. A PC Card's or wireless card's service set identifier (SSID) should be set as openpark, without quotation marks.

Open Park requires users to agree to its acceptable use policy. It does not maintain a help site or give online help.

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