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The International Fountain at Seattle Center where Microsoft's powerful new Wi-Fi network will help people better connect to their devices.
The International Fountain at Seattle Center where Microsoft’s powerful new Wi-Fi network will help people better connect to their devices. Just don’t get them wet. Photo via Seattle Center.

Bumbershoot attendees, festival lovers or those who just like to splash around the International Fountain are about to get a dose of high-speed Internet — Seattle style.

Today, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that a new free Wi-Fi service is being rolled out at the Seattle Center — the 74-acre hub of Seattle that once housed the 1962 World’s Fair and is best known as the home to the iconic Space Needle.

The network was developed in partnership with Microsoft, and uses technology that Mayor Murray said could form a blueprint for rolling out high-speed Internet in other neighborhoods.

The technology behind the new network at Seattle Center uses what’s known as “TV white space,” taking advantage of unused spectrum to create a more powerful network that can penetrate walls and other obstacles. The technology has been under development at Microsoft Research for years, with the company testing it in the U.K. in 2011. Because of its power and range, the technology sometimes gets dubbed “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

“The most obvious advantages of this technology are speed and performance,” said Dayne Sampson, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Engineering, in a statement. “What will be exciting for those attending big events such as Bumbershoot is that this technology can handle more than 25,000 users at a time. That’s a distinct difference from the free Wi-Fi often found in public places.”

According to today’s press release, the new Wi-Fi system is 5,000 times faster than the old system, using a digital fiber line to transmit multiple gigabits per second.

Ed Murray at Startupday 2015
Mayor Ed Murray at GeekWire Startup Day 2015.

Last August, Mayor Murray rolled out a 3-point plan to improve broadband Internet in Seattle. That plan includes reducing regulatory barriers for high-speed Internet providers; exploring the feasibility of municipal broadband service and launching new public-private partnerships like the one announced today with Microsoft at Seattle Center.

Under the direction of Mayor Michael McGinn, Seattle stumbled in its effort to deliver high-speed Internet to residents. Last year, Cincinnati-based Gigabit Squared backed out of an effort to set up high-speed Internet networks in 14 neighborhoods in Seattle, promising at one time deliver Gigabit speeds with fiber-to-the-home technology. The City of Seattle ultimately sued Gigabit Squared, and the partnership fell apart.

Microsoft’s technology at Seattle Center could pave a new way for the city as it contemplates its broadband future.

The network at Seattle Center is designed to serve “tens of thousands of people simultaneously” — approximately 25,000 users at a time, according to a message posted on Mayor Murray’s blog.

“This is another step forward in our work to seek out public-private partnerships to improve Internet access in Seattle,” said Mayor Murray in his blog post. “More than 12 million people visit Seattle Center each year, and now they will enjoy fast, free broadband on their devices. This pilot program tests new technology that we may be able to deploy to other neighborhoods in the city.”

Microsoft’s Wi-Fi network is currently operational from the center of the grounds and Fisher Pavilion Roof to the north end of International Fountain Lawn. It is also available inside Fisher Pavilion, Seattle Center Armory, Seattle Center Pavilion and the Next 50 Plaza. It is still being installed in the Mural Amphitheatre area.

Visitors can access the network at: “MicrosoftWiFiSeattleCenter”

Follow-up: Field Test: Microsoft’s new Seattle Center WiFi is robust and reliable, but not blazing fast

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