News Article | 5/15/2007

Victory offers free Net access

Victory Park is going wireless.

Plano-based Perot Systems Corp. is announcing today that it has finished deploying a free Wi-Fi network blanketing the 75-acre development in downtown Dallas.

Perot did the work for real estate developer Hillwood Development.

Ross Perot Jr. is chairman of both companies.

Dave Newgard, who oversees all of Perot Systems’ technology work at Victory Park, said there was some debate about making it a paid service, but the fee and signup process would have been too cumbersome.

“We want the visitor experience to be enjoyable,” he said. “We do pop up a little registration page so we can track who’s coming and going. After that, you’ve got free Internet access.”

The companies declined to say how much it cost to build the wireless network.

BelAir Networks Inc. of Canada provided the network hardware and has worked on wireless networks for cities including Minneapolis and London.

Jim Freeze, BelAir’s senior vice president of marketing, said free wireless networks are on the way to becoming as common as cellphone coverage.

“We as a society are getting to the point where we have the expectation that everything we can do in a wired world, we should be able to do in an untethered fashion,” he said.

“I think that’s a perfectly valid expectation.”

The Victory Park network has been quietly operational for a few months now, Mr. Newgard said, and plenty of people are already using it.

“It’s a slow ramp-up, as the traffic increases and events start occurring,” he said. “With little or no hardware upgrade, this thing can handle just about anything.”

While longer playoff runs from the Dallas Mavericks or Stars would probably have exposed more people to the network sooner, Mr. Newgard said, the area attracts enough big events and casual visitors that the network should be widely used.

Many users will probably never see the hardware powering the network.

Mr. Freeze said Victory was designed to incorporate cutting-edge technology as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.

That made installing the Wi-Fi network much easier.

For example, some of the access points that transmit the Internet signal are installed on light poles.

But many cities use “gang-switched poles,” where the electricity to every pole is automatically turned off during daylight hours.

“Well, that doesn’t really work particularly well if you’re trying to run wireless broadband services off those poles and need power,” Mr. Freeze said.

Mr. Newgard said that Victory was always intended to be a technological showcase, from the massive video displays in Victory Plaza to the wireless network.

“It is definitely becoming a place where people come to see how forward-thinking real estate companies embrace technology early in the design process and follow it through to construction and implementation,” he said.