Fully Wired

by Cara Gardner

Hoopfest will not only transform downtown Spokane into a swarming hive of shoppers, spectators, athletes and bottles of Gatorade, it'll also create the buzz of nonstop wireless webbing. The 140,000 people expected to attend each day of Hoopfest will find themselves in one of the largest temporary wireless network areas around. Spokane can thank the partnership of local companies Vivato, ITRONIX, White Runkle and OneEighty Networks for revving up the technology at Hoopfest this year.

"It's a pretty neat thing and probably one of the most quickly put-together networks for such a wide area," says Chad Skidmore, president of OneEighty Networks. "The idea came up about [a wireless network] that would be available to everyone." This idea, Skidmore says, turned into a mad dash and a lot of cash thrown in to "light up" downtown for two days.

The companies partnered with organizers of Hoopfest to provide up-to-the minute score- and bracket-tracking for all participating teams. This information will be gathered and immediately transferred online to www.spokanehoopfest.net, which will be available to anyone in the downtown area with laptops, Palm Pilots or cell phones that have Wi-Fi capabilities. (For the technologically challenged, Wi-Fi technology enables users to access the Internet wirelessly.) If your computer or Palm Pilot doesn't have Wi-Fi capabilities, you can easily pop into any computer store and buy a card for about $30 that enables you to access a wireless network.

"Our network is called the Hoopfest Wireless Information Network," says Tom Heavey, technology manager for Hoopfest. Heavey says users of newer computers will automatically see the Hoopfest network appear on their screens when they boot up downtown. Older computers may require the user to type in the network's name.

With such an accessible network, surfing the Web and instant messaging can be accomplished from the sidelines of a game, under a tree in Riverfront Park or even while you're meandering from one court to another. The best part about this wireless network: It's free. Well, at least for users.

"[The companies] are donating tens of thousands of dollars and lots of hardware for this project," Heavey says.

"We are providing, for the fourth year running, 40 rugged mobilized wireless computers," says Marie Hartis, director of marketing communications for ITRONIX. "They'll be used to collect on-site data for the teams."

In addition, ITRONIX is covering the cost for the wireless services and the licenses needed to run them.

WhiteRunkle, a local ad agency, wrote the software for the Hoopfest Web site and continues to maintain it.

"Essentially, we have applications that collect the data, send it to the Internet and present it to people around the world -- WhiteRunkle does all that," says Heavey.

OneEighty Networks, which currently runs five wireless networks downtown, has pitched in by sharing its space, making the Hoopfest network seamless from one location to the next. OneEighty also donated fiber-optic equipment for the six network panels, provided by Vivato, that act as satellites for the network users. Vivato will set up the panels strategically around downtown in order to maximize user capabilities.

So how is it possible to surf the Net while roaming the streets? That's where Vivato comes in.

"The Davenport, the Rocket, Starbucks -- all are connected to wireless networks," says Martin Brewer, digital hardware and software manager for Vivato. Brewer says there are many businesses that provide wireless networks, but users often must pay to use them and can't roam from the site.

"Vivato extended the range, so that rather than being within a few hundred feet, you can be within four miles and get connectivity. This is perfect technology to apply to Hoopfest. People will want to see the scores, find the weather or read the news."

Vivato has been instrumental in enhancing Wi-Fi technology, increasing the distance a user can be from a network from about 200 feet to four kilometers. Another amazing fact about Vivato: The company's research and development headquarters is right here in Spokane.

"It's a good testament to the community that we had all the resources [for this project] right here," Skidmore says. "Everyone will learn a certain amount, and our hope is that we will take another major leap forward next year as well."

Publication date: 06/26/03