Silicon Valley Plans Region-Wide Wireless Network

By Eric Auchard

A group of Silicon Valley civic and business leaders don't think the high-tech center is connected enough. Now they are looking to catch up to cities around the world that are building region-wide wireless networks.

A coalition including a high-tech civic group, regional governments and local chipmaker Intel Corp. said they had agreed to a plan to solicit bids from Internet providers to create a wireless high-speed data canopy to cover the region.

The wireless coalition, "Smart Valley," is an undertaking of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a local civic group, the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority and Intel.

Like similar efforts to build municipal wireless networks in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and other cites, the plan is to seek proposals from vendors for either fee-based or advertising- supported plans that do not require local taxpayer funds.

"'Smart Valley' is looking for wireless Internet service providers and other technology suppliers to come up with a business model or a mix that pays for the services," Intel spokesman Mark Pettinger told Reuters.

The plan is to embrace various wireless technologies, from Wi-Fi short-range networks to wide-area WiMAX and other techniques under one umbrella that will give residents of the region wireless coverage from home to work and around town.

"Who provides it, what they provide, when they provide it, how much they provide it for has not been decided," he said.

For example, consumers would be able to use computers, phones or other handheld wireless devices to receive information around the region. Local agencies might track police cars and street sweepers on the go, or use sensors to be alerted to when a traffic light or sewer pump fails.

The initiative seeks to create a regional wireless network over a

1,500 square mile area in the high-tech region, stretching from San Mateo, a city south of San Francisco, to Santa Cruz on the coast of California.

The wireless coalition selected Intel to develop an initial bidding process, reflecting its growing focus on wireless technology and its role in organizing similar projects in Portland, Oregon and Tempe, Arizona.

The request for proposal process is scheduled to begin in April. Intel has agreed not to bid on the project. The San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority, which represents 16 cities, will issue the request.

The Smart Valley group will solicit financial contributions to develop the plan to cover another 20 Silicon Valley cities. In all, the plan would stretch across four counties -- Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.

The towns of Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz -- have already approved their contribution and are now participants in the project, the project's backers said.

In November, the city of Mountain View, which is located near the heart of Silicon Valley, agreed to a plan by Google Inc., the Web search leader headquartered there, to build a free, citywide wireless data network.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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