Starting today, Austinites can get a free high-speed wireless link to the Internet throughout part of downtown.
The free city Wi-Fi network is up and running in time for next week's World Congress on Information Technology, which is bringing more than 2,100 delegates from 81 countries to Austin.
Cisco Systems Inc., one of the event's corporate sponsors, is donating $700,000 in equipment for the network.
The network is expected to provide wireless Internet service during the event at the Austin Convention Center and after hours at downtown hotels and restaurants.
When the conference is finished May 5, the wireless network will remain as the WCIT's gift to the city.
The downtown part of the network covers most of the area from Town Lake to Sixth Street and from Lamar Boulevard to Interstate 35.
Within a few months, the City of Austin is expected to complete the remaining two segments of the network, covering part of East Austin and much of Zilker Park.
Preliminary testing on the downtown network shows that it is delivering Internet access at a speed of about 600 kilobits per second, said Peter Collins, the city's chief information officer. That's about 12 times as fast as dial-up Internet access but somewhat slower than paid broadband access that is available over telephone lines or through cable modems.
Austin's Wayport Inc., which delivers paid Internet access to hotels and McDonald's restaurants, said the free network complements, but doesn't compete with, its service.
"If people are at Zilker Park and need to get connected, they can do so with the Austin network," said Michele Fanning, Wayport's director of marketing. "For in-building connectivity, such as at a McDonald's restaurant, the best connection will more than likely be the one that's installed at that location."