Thanks to a partnership between Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), connecting to the internet will no longer be a problem for anyone spending time in Whistler Village.
The public now has access to free WiFi in the village, with the first installation live and available for use at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
Tim Bonnell, Tourism Whistler's senior IT manager, said public WiFi is something visitors have been asking for since he began working with Tourism Whistler 10 years ago. "It's always been identified as something visitors would like to have, and obviously as iPhones became more prominent I think the need got bigger," he explained.
While Bonnell acknowledged there are already several businesses and operators that provide WiFi throughout the village, he said the need for one consistent network Tourism Whistler could promote and highlight to guests became increasingly evident.
The project will see additional access points installed in stages over the next two years. Once complete, there could be up to 30 WiFi access points powering 10 hotspots in key gathering locations throughout the village.
Currently, Tourism Whistler has three access points in Whistler Olympic Plaza up and running, with plans to install two more in the coming week, mounted on light posts circling the great lawn. Another is installed inside the Whistler Visitor Centre, with one more near the Whistler Conference Centre's entrance.
Another hotspot should be online at the Gateway Loop within the next week, Bonnell added.
"All those areas should be on really soon, and then Village Square, we're going to hit that one off later this month—(or) into August, depending on how we can get the installations going—and then hopefully Town Plaza this year, and the rest of the other areas (including Mountain Square, Village Common and Skier's Plaza) probably into 2019."
Bonnell said the "key ingredient" to the project was Whistler's existing fibre optic infrastructure, installed for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
"Typically what would happen in years past is that you would need a big, expensive piece of hardware that would control all of those access points. Now, it's the cloud-based system, so you don't need that big, expensive piece of hardware. That's really come about in the last couple of years," he explained. "The fibre was the initial thing, and then really having the cloud-based system for these access points has driven the cost down to a point where it's kind of a no-brainer to do."
Tourism Whistler has budgeted $75,000 this year and $75,000 next year to fund the project—"and I'm not saying we're going to spend all of this," Bonnell added. Those funds will be taken from Tourism Whistler's capital, which is supported by the RMOW's Municipal and Regional District Tax (also known as the "hotel tax").
Tourism Whistler also opted to relegate the service to main gathering places, rather than covering "every nook and cranny throughout the village," Bonnell said. "We can cover 80 per cent of the village in those through those main areas for 20 per cent of the cost. If we were trying to get every nook and cranny, that's where the cost would go up. The intent's not really that you can wander around the village streaming Netflix; there's locations that you can go to get on(line) and do your thing."
Both the RMOW and Tourism Whistler's IT teams will co-manage the support and maintenance of the system.
To access the free WiFi network, users can select "Whistler WiFi" from their device, where they will then be taken to a splash page and asked to accept the terms and conditions.