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The next step in Israel's wireless revolution took shape in Ariel on Thursday as the city in Samaria, together with communications solutions provider Nortel, launched the country's first wireless mesh network.
"The Ariel trial introduces groundbreaking possibilities by extending broadband wireless as a strategic way to deliver the services and resources needed to keep communities safe and productive, as well as economically competitive," said Sorin Lupu, president of Nortel Israel and Eastern Europe at the launch.
Nortel received the license to conduct the trial program in Ariel from the Civil Administration and the communications ministry and partnered with 13 other Israeli companies to bring it to fruition.
The launch is part of Ariel's "smart city" program and creates access points for highspeed wireless coverage in two of the city's central areas - its main pedestrian mall and at the campus of the College of Judea and Samaria .
Among other features, the service will give residents, visitors and students highspeed Internet access in those areas, free of charge during the one-year trial period.
That in itself is not a first in Israel, however, given the wireless Internet access along Jerusalem's WiFi-enabled Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. But, wireless mesh takes the WiFi experience a step further, extending the reach to campus-size areas and adding to the services available.
Essentially, Nortel has created a broadband wireless network in the city that will be controlled by the municipality.
In addition to the free public Internet access, it will allow the city to expand its municipal services to the wireless arena. New applications will include municipal surveillance cameras, remote water meter readings, wireless parking and traffic inspection and wireless video and voice communications for municipal and college employees.
In addition, Nortel said the platform will form the basis for future applications such as wireless VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) telephony and, eventually, roaming services for cellular users.
"With the proper roaming agreements in place between the municipalities and the cellular providers, a tourist could roam on the city wireless network and still use his cell phone with his own phone number," Shlomo Angi, manager Advanced Broadband Solutions Nortel Israel, explained. "The municipality network will carry these calls over the Internet towards the cellular network, and with reduced cost."
In his demonstration of the system, Angi noted that the wireless mesh does not conflict with WiMAX as the two service different markets. WiMAX increases the range and bandwidth of the WiFi standard.
"While wireless mesh services the enduser directly, WiMAX does not yet, so the two technologies complement each other," he said. "It will still take five to seven years until there are enough WiMAX end users to make it viable."
Ariel joins a growing global trend of cities around the world that have deployed Wimesh networks since the first launch in Taipei last year. Nortel said it expects the US market to grow by over 100 percent each year over the next three years.
The project was spearheaded by Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman, who initiated the "smart city" program some nine years ago. "Smart city" aims at using technology to make municipal services and community information more accessible.
"This time we are concentrating on creating a smart, wireless city," Nachman said. "By deploying municipal networks, we can deliver a wide range of smarter, faster wireless services."