The City Council unanimously approved a test project Thursday that lets AT&T Inc., the nation's biggest phone company, set up a municipal wireless network that will serve much of downtown, including city offices and a stretch of the River Walk.
AT&T will offer wireless Internet access to residents and visitors over the network, which will operate via equipment it installs on city property over the next two months.
It also will let the city test initiatives that could include remote meter reading and reporting rising floodwaters over the network.
San Antonio officials said they hope to use the trial, which could last up to 18 months, to determine the best way to build and run a large-scale wireless network that could cover a substantial swath of the city.
The city could partner with San Antonio-based AT&T or another telecom company to expand the service, but it would need to put out a formal bid to do so.
"On the technological front, this is really going to drive the city forward," Mayor Phil Hardberger said. "Although this is only a test, I have no doubt it's something that eventually will become permanent."
During the trial, AT&T will offer free Internet access at speeds of 200 kbps, slower than its lowest tier of wired broadband service. It also will offer paid access that clocks in at 1 Mbps, or on par with wired broadband service. The company hasn't set the price for the faster tier.
The arrangement essentially means AT&T will pick up the tab for the network installation, but allows the company to earn revenue when customers opt to pay for faster-speed Internet access.