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WiFi test a hit in New West

The success of the its WiFi experiment in New Westminster has the city looking at continuing and expanding the service and network, according to a report to council.

The pilot project, which ran from July 2010 to August 2011 and cost $100,000, attracted more than 2,200 users a month. At first it was tested out at Queen's Park Arena and Arenex, the public library, and the Uptown business corridor around Sixth and Sixth. City hall and Century House/youth centre in Moody Park were later added and the bandwith upgraded.

Initially the service was limited to 15 users at a time, but the upgrade doubled the capacity to 30 with two-hour time limits per session.

The report said the most frequent use was at the library followed by Queen's Park and Uptown. Most used it to access the internet to surf, read articles, check e-mails, watch videos or use social media.

While the feedback was mostly positive, there were some who expressed concerns about potential health risks.

A feedback survey filled out by 110 users last summer revealed 60 per cent used the network regularly and 90 per cent said it was reliable. Seventy nine percent said the service should be available at municipal facilities, 68 per cent thought it should also be accessible in business corridors like Uptown and Downtown, and 58 per cent said it should be expanded to Sapperton and Queensborough.

As for the cost, 54 per cent said it should be free, 31 per cent said the city should charge less than $10 a month, 13 per cent said it could be $10 to $20 a month while only three per cent said the city could charge more than $20.

During the trial, the city tested a few features. City employees were able to use laptops at any of the hot spots to securely access the city's computer network.

"This mobile capability could be beneficial to field staff such as bylaw enforcement officers, fire inspectors and building inspectors wanting access to the city computer databases without going back to their offices," said the report.

A Wi-Fi enabled parking meter was also tested for performance and ease of transaction. The report said it could potentially save significant telephone charges if was introduced across the city in the future.

A data recording system that allowed employees in city vehicles to transfer data to the server at the end of the day worked so well the smart recorders are being installed in all the vehicles.

Portable WiFi phones were tested by Canada Games Pool staff that need to move around the facility without carrying a cellphone. The WiFi phones can be connected to the city's internet phone system saving cellphone charges.

The report concluded the pilot project met its objectives and was a popular feature.

"The wireless applications tested seemed to work well and could potentially help improve municipal operational efficiencies in some areas," said the report. "The City is currently exploring options and feasibility of continuing and/or expanding the WiFi service and network."

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