Telecom Ottawa is testing a new breed of wireless technology that holds the promise of extending the utel’s Internet reach across the broader National Capital Region. Faced with the problem of extending Internet access to customers across a large area for a reasonable cost, Telecom Ottawa has turned to gear from BelAir Networks that could reduce wireless local area network costs by 70% and operating expenditures by 90%. Dave Dobbin, COO of Telecom Ottawa, tells Report on Wireless that the wireless Internet hotspot access can be used as a value-add for existing business and ISP customers. "But the question was when we looked at it, it really didn’t seem to us there was any real economy of scale or benefit in deploying multiple small regular hotspots willy-nilly all over the (countryside). The business model didn’t seem to work."  The company then happened upon BelAir Networks, says Dobbin. BelAir is an Ottawa-based firm that uses a combination of cellular and Wi-Fi technology to create a "mesh" of hotspots allowing for greater network coverage for a fraction of the cost. The multiple point-to-point network configuration, which is deployed outdoors, requires five to 10 times fewer access points than indoor systems. "The business case is a lot easier to make with (the mesh technology)," says Dobbin. "It makes a lot more sense. It’s easier to manage so we’re trying the technology to make sure it works." Telecom Ottawa has initially deployed the technology at Ottawa City Hall and at the Nepean Sportsplex in the city’s west end. The trial will run from February until April 2004 and will offer anyone with a laptop equipped with an 802.11b network access card a broadband connection to the Internet for free.  "If it works then we’re going to another stage in the trial where we’re going to start meshing them together, and then we’re looking to go with a full launch," Dobbin tells RoW.  While the trial is aimed at consumers and mesh networking offers the potential to attract consumer market customers, Dobbin says the company will stick to its goal of being carriers’ carrier and attacking the enterprise market. While the company has some residential customers, a concerted effort to attract more isn’t in the cards, he says.  Hydro Ottawa’s telecom unit entered the consumer segment to a greater degree late last year when it acquired Trytel Internet Inc., an ISP with operations in Ottawa and Peterborough. "We’re going to continue to support those customers, but we’re not looking to actively grow that segment," Dobbin says.  The agreement with BelAir marks Telecom Ottawa’s second deal with a wireless equipment maker. The company inked a supply agreement with DragonWave Inc. in December 2002, which resulted in the build-out of several radio links throughout the National Capital Region (RoW, May 27/03). Dobbin says the two technologies are complementary and, in fact, the DragonWave radio can be used to feed into the mesh network.  The launch of any commercial services, however, is contingent on the company winning licences in the spectrum auction, which began on February 9. RoW speculated last month that the utility telecom would try to secure the Ottawa licence, but would quickly find itself on the outside looking in because the larger national players would bid up the price out of the company’s reach (see article here for more detailed information on Telecom Ottawa’s and other smaller players’ auction strategies).