Wireless Woodstock Gets a Boost

June 30, 2011

Wireless Woodstock Gets a Boost

Just in time for summer, the local community WiFi project received more funding and improved their signal strength in the Village. The organizers hope to take the warm months to further promote the service and to expand it with additional funding.

Wireless Woodstock is a free broadband internet connection provided by the Norman Williams Public Library. Launched as a beta version in the middle of last summer, the original setup included four “access points” that provided a WiFi signal to a select area in the center of the business district. Nine community members from various local constituencies determined the parameters of the service and directed the design and content of a website, wirelesswoodstock.org, to which users of the internet service are directed.

Organizers have since measured the use and taken feedback regarding use of the service. The usage was better than expected as the system served an average of 400 unique users per month, many of whom use the service over a dozen times. But while the overall sentiment was appreciation and enthusiasm, some challenges arose. Committee members Larry Perry and Townsend Belisle received periodic reports that users could not connect, or were bounced off of the signal.

“Most of the problematic experiences were due to the user being on the fringe or outside the actual signal area. Others were just not informed on how to get on it,” noted Belisle, the originator of the idea. The signal was limited to an area covering the far East end of the Green and the intersections of Central and Elm streets.

An anonymous donation allowed the organizers to bring in a consultant to assess the existing system and to improve it in time for the Woodstock Digital Media Festival, held at the beginning of June. The consultant, Summit Technologies of Williston Vt., found that the existing system could be further optimized before expansion. “Our repeaters were installed too high. They could talk to one another but should be altered to provide much better for service on the ground,” said Belisle. “David [McGowan] brought the Festival to town partially because we had signal. So we were motivated to have it in place for his team.”

The existing access points were given directional antennas that allows the signal to be aimed downward without compromising the approved locations of the repeaters. Another repeater was added to on the Green. “We immediately experienced as much as a 50% improvement in the signal strength,” said Jack McGuire, Chairman of the Library. “With this modest enhancement, users will notice a significantly better signal.”

WiFi seekers will now find signal from the Eastern half of the Green all the way down Central street to the Post Office, and down Elm Street to the Village Butcher. The signal picks up again around the Fire and Police Station. This is because another access point was added at the East of town, originating from Woodstock Home and Hardware. “Check out the cars parked across Route 4 and in the Pizza Chef parking lot,” added McGuire. “Its working well.”

Of their summer plans, the organizers will soon provide simple signage to increase awareness of the service. They also expect to provide fact sheets at the Library and in other locations so challenged users can learn how to connect. “People need to ‘authenticate’ once their computer, phone or iPad connects,” Belisle clarified. “This requires opening up an internet browser, like Safari, Firefox or Explorer, and agreeing to our terms of service. Unless you do this, you cannot actually access the web or email.”

Finally, further expansion is expected in July and August. “Several local businesses have pledged to support us, and with those funds we will add service to several areas,” said McGuire. “We hope to make those announcements soon.” Comments and questions regarding the service can be directed to [email protected].