Shaw Communications has teamed up with networking giant Cisco to create a super Wi-Fi network that will blanket public areas in Western Canada’s major cities, providing Shaw customers with Internet access for their mobile devices everywhere from Stanley Park to the Calgary Stampede.

Work on the network, which will focus first on Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, has already started, but it will be next April or May before it’s ready for customers to use.

Shaw’s announcement on its Wi-Fi network follows its abandonment of plans to build a wireless phone network, an undertaking company president Peter Bissonnette said would have cost more than $1 billion. While Bissonnette declined to say what the Wi-Fi network will cost, he pointed to analysts’ reports that put such networks in the $200-million to $300-million range.

“We thought it was better use of funds, rather than spending a billion dollars plus, to spend significantly less building a very robust network that leverages on our broadband network,” said Bissonnette.

“I think time will tell just how important Wi-Fi is going to be in terms of another way of getting the broadband experience.”

The service is aimed at the fastgrowing mobile-device market that is seeing people tune into Wi-Fi networks from their smart phones, tablet computers and other devices.

Rather than providing coverage at a limited number of hot spots such as coffee shops and other businesses, the Shaw Wi-Fi network, which is being built in collaboration with Cisco, will attempt to provide seamless coverage over broader areas, such as along rapid-transit lines, throughout stadiums, in parks, or along busy urban streets.

“The challenge will be to build them [wireless access points] where our customers are,” Bissonnette said, adding that they could be anywhere from small arenas where parents take their kids to play hockey to shopping centres in Surrey.

Bissonnette said the Vancouver coverage will extend throughout the Lower Mainland and, after the initial network is in place, the company will continue to expand on it, filling in areas where there is demand.

It’s a public Wi-Fi system, not meant to replace home Internet connections, and will be available only for Shaw Internet customers, now numbering just over 1.8 million. It won’t be accessible to customers who only subscribe to Shaw television or phone service. Bissonnette said the service will be secure, with users required to sign in and data transmissions encrypted.

Shaw also plans to get ad revenue from the service, with location-based ads that could take the form of an icon popping up on a user’s screen as he or she passes a particular store or business. Bissonnette said his company already has deals with some malls where the service will be available.

He said it’s also possible that the Shaw Wi-Fi network will be made available in buildings and areas already served by wireless carriers such as Bell or Telus, like Vancouver’s airport or stadiums and convention centres.

Bissonnette said initially Shaw Internet customers will be able to use up to four devices on the Wi-Fi network, although provision could be made for households where family members have more than four devices.

Shaw has no plans to follow the lead of wireless carriers in offering a subsidy on the sale of wireless devices in return for a long-term contract. Bissonnette points out that the company has never sold televisions although it provides cable service, so it’s not about to get into the business of selling devices to access its network.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun