Downtown businesses go wireless

Internet provider Ilero reaches new customers.
Thursday, July 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:41 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Downtown Columbia is getting up to speed with new wireless Internet access offered by Ilero, Inc.

Ilero began offering its iZone network services about a month ago, and already several businesses have signed up to make the service available to customers. With a network interface card, wireless computer owners can use the WiFi technology without a telephone or cable hookup.

Ilero owner Tim Worstell said his company’s vision is to provide mobile, reliable Internet access that comes with the speed of a DSL connection but at the lower price of dial-up service.

“If you have no wire and can walk around in your home, it’s nice,” he said.

Downtown businesses that offer free iZone access to customers include Mid-Missouri Golf, Coliseum Bistro, Sub Shop and Sake. The Democratic Party headquarters also uses the network. Prices for iZone range from $19.95 to $34.95 for residential users and from $29.95 to $59.95 for businesses.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, technology used by new wireless providers, called “wireless LANs (local area networks)” or “hotspots,” is “relatively simple and cheap to deploy” and can transmit information “at far higher speeds” than prevalent wireless networks.

Unlike DSL services, wireless systems use shared networks that might become slower when more people connect to the radio signal from the same access point, said Todd Krupa, spokesman for Information and Access Technology Services at MU.

Bill Adams, owner of Mid-Missouri Golf, said it was “a combination of reliability, speed and price” that prompted him to go with iZone. His employees use it to get online information for customers.

Fusion Brew owner Vinh Tran said he switched from a DSL provider to Ilero because it was cheaper. But he later switched back to the DSL because Ilero’s speed was not as fast as it was promised to be, he said. Worstell said that problem was due to interference that sometimes comes with wireless technology.

Kurt Mirtsching, owner of Shakespeare’s Pizza, said he plans to have wireless access for customers soon. He might choose Ilero, but continues to compare prices and speed.

Some downtown businesses, including Lakota Coffee Co. and the Cherry Street Artisan, have long provided customers with wireless access through DSL providers.

Lakota has had wireless access for more than three years. Owner Skip DuCharme said he prefers his current local DSL provider, Tranquility Internet Service, and has no plan to switch unless Ilero offers substantially better service. A wireless network needs to remain “stable and always up,” he said.

The use of direct wireless Internet access is rapidly increasing nationwide. According to RBC Capital Markets, wireless companies in the United States, excluding major telecommunication corporations, are projected to generate about $1.1 billion in 2004, a roughly 60 percent increase over 2003. The Telecommunications Industry Association also predicts wireless Internet users across the country will increase to 64 million by 2006, while the use of broadband access will increase threefold, from 15 million in 2002 to more than 40 million in 2006.

While cellular phones, microwaves and other devices can interfere with some wireless Internet signals, Worstell said Ilero uses “intelligent router” antennae that reduce interference and problems with weather and water.

Ilero has deployed three 8-foot antennas downtown, including one atop the Tiger Hotel where the network’s center is located. Each transmitter sends a signal that covers a 1.5-mile radius.

Worstell said he’s not worried about so-called “wireless pirates” exploiting iZone for free. The system requires a network password and a wireless device serial number, which means “only computer geniuses” would be able to use it without authorization, he said.

The goal of Ilero is to cover all of Columbia.

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