Amherst, Massachusetts deploys downtown free WiFi hotzone

Amherst, Massachusetts (pop. 35,000) is providing free WiFi service in the downtown area to meet the needs of residents and visitors. Amherst is a college town that is home to Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The town set up a downtown Wi-Fi hotzone with 35 Cisco (3620e) access points inside NEMA enclosures with external antennas custom mounts, custom wiring and custom power supplies. Access points are mounted on buildings and street lights.

According to Kristopher Pacunas, Amherst’s Director of Information Technology, the performance with the Cisco APs was much better than other outdoor solutions that they evaluated and tested. The town had budgeted $75,000 for the entire project and only needed $50,000. Deployment, maintenance and support are done in-house. They expect as many as a 1,000 people using the network at any one time. Although they have not publicized the existence of the network, 200 to 300 people are already using it daily.

The downtown free WiFi network will launch officially on Wednesday. Unlike other municipal WiFi networks, Amherst will have no cumbersome login process. You won’t be forced to click on those obnoxious, stupid meaningless “I Agree” buttons to gain access. The network is also optimized for portable devices like iPhones and iPads. I expect many students to use this network and I hope that the town can accommodate their bandwidth needs.