Genoa embraces open Wi-Fi network | RecordCourier.com

Genoa embraces open Wi-Fi network

by Rob Sabo
For The R-C

Development of a wireless network to provide internet access throughout downtown Genoa has provided a modern amenity to the rustic town — and it also has the ability to create a richer tourism experience for people visiting Nevada's oldest settlement.

Want to learn more about legendary mail carrier "Snowshoe" Thompson, who carried mail to and from Genoa and Placerville twice a month for 20 years in the 1800s? Or Mormon Station State Historic Park, where Thompson's statue is located?

One day there will be an app for that, said Genoa Town Manager Philip Ritger.

The $20,000 open "mesh" network utilizes a series of nodes and signal boosters from Genoa businesses and organizations to provide blanket coverage throughout the downtown corridor. On a recent Friday afternoon, more than 200 people were logged into the network, Ritger said.

The Genoa Main Street Wi-Fi project, born in part out of the need to provide increased online payment transaction capability for vendors at the annual Candy Dance arts and crafts festival, has already provided an important connectivity link to visitors to the town. One possible evolution for the system could help visitors to Genoa learn more about the town's rich history.

"It is a positive thing for this town and for what can happen in the future," Ritger said. "There are plenty of opportunities to do some really dynamic walking tours of the historic district using GPS coordinates and an app-type approach to marketing the town and the historic district."

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Business owners — even those who long have had private Wi-Fi networks in place — say that providing free Internet access to tourists is a key step in the town's evolving tourism efforts.

Nick Agosta, owner of Genoa Country Inn, said it's impossible to run a business today without access to the Internet and Wi-Fi for customers. Agosta installed a private network when he re-opened the inn in 2010. But the Genoa open-access network helps guests stay connected as they move about town for meals or sightseeing.

"A lot of people are here for multiple-day stays, and we also have corporate accounts," Agosta said. "Those people need to use their laptops or computers — if you are going to operate a hotel you have to have Wi-Fi for your guests. In today's world, it's pretty much a must and not a convenience anymore."

For others, especially businesses with space for guests to sit and stay a spell, the open Wi-Fi network allows guests to peruse the Internet or catch up on their social media accounts – and hopefully spend a few dollars while they relax.

Lois Wray, co-owner of the Pink House since 2014, said customers that come into the establishment for food and drinks typically log on to send texts or post photos to social media accounts while they enjoy the open patio or enclosed parlor space. Like most businesses in town, the Pink House has its own secure network to safeguard credit-card transactions. But the open network allows guests to stay connected.

"Today people rely on having Internet access to their emails or for sending documents," Wray said. "Having reliable access to the Internet is absolutely crucial to a businessperson today.

"It helps foster a better atmosphere for Genoa, and all of Genoa businesses," she adds. "And the Candy Dance is the biggest event we have every year. Anything that makes it more reliable for the vendors is a huge plus."

Vendors can use personal payment platforms such as Square for transactions at the Candy Dance, which is held the last full weekend in September. However, the sheer number of visitors to Genoa has the ability to overwhelm the network, Ritger said.

"A mesh network depends on the placement of the nodes and how much bandwidth can you provide," he said. "What we provide now is more than sufficient 360-some days a year; we can support probably up to 1,000 clients. But where it becomes interesting and difficult is during the Candy Dance."

Access to the town's open Wi-Fi network is isolated so that only vendors can connect to it during the Candy Dance, and the network has plenty of bandwidth to support the thousands of online transactions that take place during the two-day event.

The problem, Ritger said, is that more than 30,000 people descend on Genoa for the annual faire held since 1919 — and almost every person has a smartphone that's constantly "pinging" the network and trying to connect to it.

"The activity of that number of devices is enough to bring the system down; it can't handle the capacity," he said. "We are still working to try and correct or modify that, but it's only two days out of the year."

Genoa lacks the high-speed connectivity that comes with fiber optic cabling. The current Wi-Fi network based at the Town Hall uses a signal from Charter and is boosted throughout town using additional access points at the Genoa Volunteer Fire Station and the Pink House.

The beauty of the network, Ritger said, is that it blankets the entire downtown area. However the installation, performed by Tmak Holdings owner Tony Prestigiacomo, had to overcome issues such as various tree cover and the patchwork of various building locations in Genoa.

"We are an older town, and the system we put in is very unobtrusive," Ritger said. "It was difficult to figure out how to project the signal and get the best coverage. Placement was difficult, but we had a great contractor who worked with us to facilitate all that."