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Free Wi-Fi in Chinatown

October 4th, 2007 by Ryan Ozawa · 1 Comment · Hawaii, Technology

Free Wi-Fi is finally coming to downtown Honolulu, and other parts of the island. But it’s not coming from the company we thought it would, and over a year later than we expected.

Over a year ago, the city announced plans to offer free wireless Internet access in Chinatown. The rollout, in partnership with national network provider Earthlink, was supposed to be the prototype for an island-wide network.

I was excited about the plan, especially given the overall renaissance taking place in Chinatown, and traded notes with folks from the city and Earthlink asking for updates. But eventually they stopped replying. Then, months passed with nary a mention of when Honolulu’s municipal Wi-Fi network would light up, despite the initial plan to go live that summer.

In November, the city announced that the free wireless program would be delayed until early this year. “Early this year” came and went. And in August, Earthlink ran into financial trouble, and pulled out of municipal wireless programs in several cities. I don’t recall any formal announcement that the Honolulu project was among them, but… it seemed a safe bet.

Well, as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports today, free Wi-Fi is coming after all. Rather than Earthlink, the company that’s going to make it happen is Kokua Wireless (dba Tri-Net Solutions LLC). Through a partnership that was inked in August, the company’s “nodes” got the official stamp of approval from the city. As a result, Tri-Net Solutions gets a credibility boost in its search for area businesses to host their equipment (since, unlike the original plan, they won’t be able to piggyback on Hawaiian Electric Co. or city infrastructure), and a year to figure out how to make money by giving away Internet access.

It’s something much larger companies like Earthlink have obviously struggled to do, and something that Tri-Net similarly suggests may revolve around advertising.

What does the city get out of it? An opportunity to fulfill the promise made last year, making web surfing citizens happy without spending a cent.

You can check out the map of Kokua Wireless hotspots (which includes several downtown, and a few odd locations in Waimanalo and Kaneohe). Or you can read the Kokua Wireless blog for the latest news… such as their latest hotspot at the Chinatown police station. The company notes they’re still looking for “a local TALL BUIDLING right in that area… hint hint.”

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