Group touts city's wireless network

A Chattanooga economic development group said Friday it plans to leverage the city's expanding wireless network to spur more private sector jobs.

"There are technology opportunities in a number of markets," said Wayne Cropp, who heads Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, citing the medical sector.

The center wants to market Chattanooga's wireless mesh network, which has been developed for public safety and other city agencies.

The network, building off of EPB's hyper-fast Internet capabilities, houses a communications pipeline for mobile applications, officials said.

For example, an early initiative is deployment of wireless access to police vehicles to create a virtual office that's never offline. Officers have immediate, real-time access to Web security cameras strategically placed in the city.

Mark Keil, the city's chief information officer, said Chattanooga is working to expand the network into Collegedale and Cleveland, Tenn.

He told the Enterprise Center's board that he frequently talks to companies interested in using the wireless technology.

Jim Hall, the center's chairman, said there should be "opportunities to cross-pollinate into the private sector" as the technology matures.

"It's extremely significant as we face funding challenges in government to be effective in the use of taxpayer funds," he added.

Excalibur Integrated Systems Chief Executive Officer Rodger Jenkins, who is working with the city on the network, also cited the medical industry and a research entity some in the city are pursuing.

"This will be a path to bring people in," he said, adding the city could be three years ahead of other municipalities.

He said Stratford, Canada, is the closest to Chattanooga in building a network. That city, just as Chattanooga, is a finalist for the Intelligent Community Forum's so-called world's "smartest city" designation.

Dan Johnson, Mayor Ron Littlefield's chief of staff, said about 150 of the keg-shaped, mesh access point units which carry the signal have been put on power poles and other locations so far.

About eight a day are installed on average, he said. Between 600 and 800 units are planned

The network is funded by federal grants and city funds.

Richard Beeland, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city has spent about $2 million so far.