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ImOn Testing Wi-Fi System in Downtown Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - ImOn Communications, which provided free Wi-Fi for the NewBo City Market, is considering whether to create a free public Wi-Fi system downtown.

Downtown Cedar Rapids has been without a free district Wi-Fi system for about five years, since the June 2008 flood. That system was created by an organization called cFree that has since dissolved, and was briefly taken over by the Cedar Rapids Downtown District before the system was damaged by the flood.

ImOn has recently been testing improved Wi-Fi technology in downtown Cedar Rapids and evaluating whether it can justify creating a free district Wi-Fi system, according to Jeff Janssen, ImOn director of sales and marketing.

While declining to name the technology, Janssen said "It's not as linear. It can see around buildings more, and do a little more with signaling."

The test system isn't identifiable by Wi-Fi users as an ImOn system, but Janssen said it's not password protected and receives public traffic.

That's fine with ImOn, which is collecting user data and seeing how the system handles the traffic.

The test is now in its second phase, in which the system's geographic reach is being expanded.

While ImOn is evaluating the technology, it's also trying to determine if there are revenue opportunities that could defray the cost of operating the system.

Public Wi-Fi systems are often able to sell advertising on the "splash page" or welcome page.

Janssen said it might also be possible to dedicate some bandwidth for specific business or government users that would pay for service, or to generate revenues from wireless carriers.

Wireless carriers idea have contracted with Wi-Fi network operators in some areas of high data traffic to offload their traffic when subscribers are in the Wi-Fi hot spots in order to reduce congestion on their cellular networks.

ImOn isn't pursuing the project for profits, Janssen said.

"In the end, we're hoping to create a wireless network that betters the downtown," he said.

The NewBo City Market Wi-Fi system operated by ImOn is also free, but uses conventional Wi-Fi technology. Janssen said the system covers both the interior of the market building, and a slightly more than one city block area outside the building.

Users don't need a password to access the network, Janssen said, although they do have to click off on a "terms of use" agreement.

Based in Cedar Rapids, ImOn offers Internet, phone and cable TV services. The Gazette is a minority owner in the firm.

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