WiFi In Public Spaces

A message came acrross the web4lib list a few weeks ago with the following request:

I want to hear from libraries who are currently implementing, or who already have implemented, wireless access for staff and/or patrons. I want your ‘stories’–good, bad and ugly. Issues and/or triumphs with IT staff, vendors, library staff, library boards, faculty committees, etc. I’m looking for all aspects of the process-finding hardware, implementation, policy (!), training staff, marketing the service to your patron base, troubleshooting and maintenance issues.

My response included the following:

The problem, of course, is that vendors are well prepared to deliver solutions that appear secure for office environments, but public service environments change everything. Patrons use a broad range of equipment, most of it incompatible with the solutions targeted at private offices. It’s important to look in other markets — the hospitality industry, for example — for wireless implementations that work in public spaces.

I wasn’t leading the wireless charge at the time we were investigating a campus-wide installation, and I’m even further from it now, but I wrote a few posts that addressed the needs and concerns we face: The Wireless Security Landscape, Wireless Vulnerabilities, Better Networks Through Policy, and What For Wireless?.

In the end we chose Nortel’s Shasta Broadband Service Node (now renamed “services edge router”). It fits into a market segment Nortel defines as “visitor-based networking:”

Defined as the delivery of high-speed wireline or wireless Internet access for PC or handheld devices to users in need of temporary service in public places, a Visitor-Based Network is typically deployed in environments such as hotels, convention centers, airports, press areas or other meeting spaces

In a Visitor-Based Networking service area, visitors attempting to access the Internet through a browser will get an IP address and be redirected to a customizable, secure VBN portal. At the VBN portal screen, the visitor can self-provision a variety of network services based on application content, bandwidth and security requirements. For example, the visitor may choose pay-by-bandwidth or pay-by-time services. The VBN portal provides full support of customer-initiated debit and credit card billing options as well as hotel account billing.