Town has head in wireless cloud
(CNN) -- The New Media Institute at the University of Georgia in Athens is spearheading the creation of a "wireless cloud." It's an undertaking that will allow students, residents and tourists to take advantage of free wireless connectivity in part of the city. The "Wireless Athens Group," or WAG, also has support from local and state government. CNN Science Correspondent Ann Kellan talked with Scott Shamp, director of the Institute and associate professor at the University of Georgia's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
ANN KELLAN: What's the goal of this "wireless cloud" in downtown Athens?
SCOTT SHAMP: We're trying to find a way to make people's lives richer using wireless technology through downtown. Now, it's an exploration; it's all experimentation. We don't know what we're going to find at the end of it. So, people come and say, "what is it good for?" and we say right now, we're all about building the capability.
KELLAN: So how does it work?
SHAMP: There are small boxes we call 3G boxes, and they act as kind of hubs that will send signals from computers back to a head end, back to the New Media Institute (at the University of Georgia), where we can stream people out to the Internet. So, it's like putting up small little antennaes and repeater boxes throughout downtown and then allowing anyone throughout downtown who has a wireless equipped device, whether it's a PDA, a Pocket PC or a laptop. It has a WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) card that you can buy at an electronics store for under 100 bucks. If they get that, then they'll be able to get the Internet throughout downtown Athens.
KELLAN: Why do we need this?
SHAMP: Well, right now we're finding that wireless is going in a couple of different directions. There's what the telephone companies are selling us as wireless. And that's very low bandwidth and it's not multimedia. And you've got to pay large amounts of money to get it. That's what you get on your cell phone when they tell you to get the wireless Web. So we know we get to read a few lines of text from each of these selected Web sites. That's one direction the telecommunications industry has been going in. The other direction is much more a popular movement. It's what we call the WiFi movement. And this cloud we're building throughout downtown Athens is part of the WiFi movement. And it's high bandwidth so you can do multimedia. So instead of just getting a few lines of text from a Web site, you can actually get audio and video from a club downtown. Instead of getting your stock quotes on your phone, you might be able to play an interactive game. What we're developing is a new wireless that can do new things for us.
KELLAN: Are you worried about security?
SHAMP: The wireless cloud that we're going to be developing is going to be a public commodity. It's like a public park, when you think about it. Now anybody who wants to conduct their private business in a public park is doing so at their own risk. So if I were going to tell anybody to use this to send credit card information or to send those lurid e-mails that they shouldn't be sending... this wouldn't be the place you should do it. But if you want to find out about restaurants, if you want to find out about entertainment opportunities, then this kind of network would be good for that.
KELLAN: Lots of people and companies talk about wireless capabilities, but not that many are using it. Why not?
SHAMP: A lot of people think that technology is holding back wireless communication. It's not. It's compelling uses that's really holding back wireless. Truth of the matter is, nobody knows what it's good for because they haven't had an opportunity to experiment. And so what we're about is experimenting with new types of communications and then we're going to see if we can build successful business models off of that content.
KELLAN: So you don't know exactly what you'll end up with?
SHAMP: I tell people all the time, we're not building a factory with this wireless cloud, because we don't know how people are going to make money off it. What we're building is a sandbox, where people can build things, then tear it down and try something different. We're building a place where people can play with technology to see what they want to accomplish. So, it's going to be an interesting sandbox.
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