News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

physicians-mutual-dental-insurance-banners

WiFi makes Encinitas more than just a ‘hot spot’

The Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association team includes program intern Mathew Gelbman (left), Office Manager Dody Tucker (center) and Executive Directot Peder Norby. (Photo by David J. Olender)
The Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association team includes program intern Mathew Gelbman (left), Office Manager Dody Tucker (center) and Executive Directot Peder Norby. (Photo by David J. Olender)

Encinitas is a hot spot for many things. Its restaurants, bars, businesses and downtown area attract visitors from all over San Diego and beyond. But when it comes to WiFi access, Encinitas has put itself on the national map.

For about two years, downtown Encinitas has provided residents and businesses with WiFi access. Working with Cheetah Wireless Technologies Inc., the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association (DEMA) implemented a series of nodes that run up and down Highway 101 and Second Street. These nodes provide the wireless signal that allows people to get internet access through their home computers or laptops.

WiFi is short for wireless fidelity. It refers to a wireless networking system.  This type of technology allows you to be “plugged in” to the Internet, without having to be plugged in. Many areas provide what are called “hot spots,” or small areas that provide WiFi access, but Encinitas has the first and only downtown area in San Diego to provide a much broader coverage than just a hot spot. It is also one of only a handful of cities in California that provide this service.

“This is our model, what suits our needs, and it was developed organically for Encinitas,” said Peder Norby, executive director of DEMA.

It is a subscription model, and for $29.95 a month for residents and $39.95 a month for businesses, those who fall under the umbrella of coverage provided by Cheetah Wireless can get WiFi access. That umbrella covers the stretch of Highway 101 that runs through downtown Encinitas and the streets that border it. Users can also set up subscriptions for hourly, daily and weekly use; this is what is referred to as “ad hoc” use.

Another aspect of the model that specifically suited Encinitas is that it did not cost the city or taxpayers anything. Cheetah Wireless Technologies Inc. has arrangements with local private business owners to put the nodes on their property. That, along with the individual subscription model has alleviated any financial burden what so ever for the community.

The idea to implement the program came at a time when the downtown area did not have access to the Internet.

“It was primarily to service our business district with broadband and then also to have customers to our stores, be able to bring their laptop for lunch and work in the center courtyard of the Lumberyard,” Norby said.

Every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., they set up the system so that anyone in the downtown area has free access to it. It is something Encinitas does to attract customers to its downtown area, and introduce them to the WiFi service.

“One of the things we have is, we call it ‘wireless Wednesdays,’” Norby said. “We say there’s no free lunch, but there’s free lunch for wireless.”

WiFi access allows computer users to be on the go and stay attached to cyberspace where ever they are.

One place they might be is the E Street Café. College students, business people, local residents and international travelers can all be found at the café enjoying the combination of coffee house and cyberspace café.

“We’re getting good feedback, and people keep coming back,” said Nancy May, executive director of the E Street Café.

According to May, there are times during the day when you walk into the café and it is filled with people and their laptops. It is nothing new to see laptops in a coffee shop but the business model that the E Street Café employs is. With a purchase of $1-$5.99, a customer receives a card that gets them 30 minutes of WiFi access. A purchase of $6-$10 gets a customer one hour of access, and a purchase over $10 gets them four hours of WiFi access.

“We’ve allowed the E Street Café to subscribe networks on their own,” said Mitchell Gonzalez, president of Cheetah Wireless Technologies Inc. “They’re basically subscribing 1,000 people a month.”

Although most of those 1,000 subscriptions are ad hoc users, the response has been favorable. The network has been upgraded and it seems the next step is expansion.

“I think the feedback’s pretty good,” Gonzalez said. “We got a lot of renewals.”

Cheetah Wireless Technologies Inc. recently finished upgrading the Encinitas WiFi network. One of the highlights of the upgrade is the strengthened security that users will have.

“This gives them the opportunity to have a completely secure system,” Gonzalez said. “Completely secure from end to end.”

The next step is for the umbrella of coverage to grow. Both Norby and Gonzalez agree that step happens by moving into the residential community, which will require involvement from the city.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is get the city to work with us using the light poles,” Gonzalez said.

So far, the city has been reluctant to get involved but that is really the only way for the network to expand. Gonzalez said he plans on following up with the city manager and his staff for another attempt at expansion.

“At the end of the day, the best way to do it is for the city to participate,” Gonzalez said.