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Minnesota Takes Wireless to the Wild

The state's department of natural resources strengthened its outdoor Wi-Fi to ensure visitors had great connectivity.

The goal was simple: Make it easier for Minnesotans to get outdoors.

With this in mind, in 2008, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources brought free guest wireless to Itasca State Park, a 32,000-acre site that boasts the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Pat Arndt, the communications and outreach manager for the DNR Parks and Trails Division, says that provisioning Wi-Fi helps residents overcome two challenges that otherwise keep them out of the parks: a lack of time and a lack of information. Arndt notes that people often work on a Saturday, Sunday or a half day.

“If Mom or Dad could be hooked up and get that project done or check in at the office on a Saturday morning and still spend the weekend with their family camping at one of our beautiful state parks, it seemed like a good compromise,” she says.

And with a wireless connection, information about local events, where to eat or buy gas, or the flora and fauna of the park itself is easily obtained.

Since the success of the pilot program, the agency expanded wireless access to seven more state park campgrounds. According to Dan Kuntz, an enterprise LAN service manager in the state’s IT department, the biggest challenges he faces are extending the network into the campground and then getting a wireless signal to propagate in densely treed areas while hiding the antennas.

When we don’t have direct fiber-optic cabling to light up a wireless access point in an area of park, then we’ll use 900- megahertz radios to create a point-to-point network from one area to another,” says Kuntz. “The 900MHz frequency will penetrate through tree cover quite well.”

For more advance on how states and local governments are rolling out wireless deployments in smart ways, read our feature story "5 Steps for Deploying a Smart Wi-Fi Strategy."

Apr 11 2016

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