Can Wi-Fi Make Congestion Pricing Work?

<p>An innovative proposal seeks to deal with both vehicle and internet congestion by placing Wi-Fi access transmitters in cars driving through urban areas.</p>
March 18, 2008, 11am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"While traffic-mitigation projects are gaining steam, other municipal efforts have been floundering-namely, plans to offer ubiquitous wireless Internet access throughout entire cities and towns. Earthlink, once the champion of municipal Wi-Fi network deployments, has dropped many of its plans. Throughout 2005 and 2006, Earthlink won nationwide contracts with a deal in which the company would foot the bill for a citywide Wi-Fi network infrastructure in exchange for the right to sell Wi-Fi services to city residents."

"What do gridlock and Wi-Fi have to do with one another?"

"Plenty, according to entrepreneur Robin Chase, who aims to address traffic congestion and municipal Wi-Fi in one fell swoop. She has a plan for urban vehicle congestion pricing systems that double as enormous wireless hotspots."

"Here's the gist: Drivers who intend to travel into a city's congestion pricing area will install Wi-Fi 'white boxes' in their cars. The devices will communicate with the traffic-congestion system (like an E-ZPass device, but in the 802.11g 2.4 GHz band) and act as wireless access points in an open-source mobile mesh network."

"Mesh networks-including those used in municipal Wi-Fi deployments-dynamically route data packets among wireless access points. Only one access point must be connected directly to the wired network, with several others sharing a connection over the air. In urban Wi-Fi networks, these nodes usually sit on rooftops and lightposts. In Chase's plan, each car would become a node in a dynamic mesh network, routing and repeating packets of data. The nature of the mesh guarantees there is no single point of failure."

"While she can't predict exact traffic patterns, Chase maintains that in city traffic-even with mitigated congestion-vehicles will stay close enough to each other for an effective wireless signal handoff."

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Published on Monday, March 17, 2008 in Baseline
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