As new technologies make tangled wires and cables a distant memory for many Internet users, wireless Internet services are becoming increasingly available Costa Rica – at least in the greater San José area – thanks to both public and private initiatives.
In restaurants around the city, everything from bagels and coffee to fried chicken can be served up next to laptops where diners use the restaurants’ free wireless services to make the most of their time, while the government works to provide the service from the hills of the city’s suburbs to downtown parks.
Wireless Internet is now available to customers of Radiográfica Costarricense, S.A. (RACSA), the state-owned Internet provider, in the southwestern suburbs of Escazú and Santa Ana, and free to users at the JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport west of San José. The Municipality of San José hopes to follow suit by working with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) to offer wireless Internet at various sites throughout the city before the year is out.
On the culinary side, the Bagelmen’s restaurant chain has been offering wireless for approximately three years; newer options for Internet-seeking diners include the U.S. chain franchisees T.G.I. Friday’s (located in the western San José suburb of Escazú) and Denny’s (with two locations on the highway from San José to Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela, west of the capital).
Carolina Godoy, head of marketing and sales for Bagelmen’s, said she considers wireless Internet service a growing restaurant trend here.
“We’re all trying to get connected all the time,” she told The Tico Times.“Many of our clients come in the morning, have breakfast, do their work, come back in the afternoon and connect again – it’s nice.”
Both Godoy and German Castro, an accountant for T.G.I. Friday’s, said the service is very popular with customers, such as business executives holding meetings in the restaurants.
Alan Vargas, administrative assistant at RadioShack’s San José branch, said wireless equipment is also increasingly popular for home use, though more foreigners than Costa Ricans make such purchases. The company Power Access (388-7222) also offers such equipment, according to manager Jaco Aizenman.
A home or business with an Internet connection can be set up for wireless Internet by purchasing a router (at RadioShack, a Linksys router with a 30-meter range costs approximately $95, and Power Access sells routers for $100) and a card for older-model computers using the service (approximately $59 at RadioShack). Businesses such as restaurants, where a changing cast of characters use the service, generally have several cards available and allow clients to borrow them, though most new laptops come equipped for wireless service.
Power Access also offers satellite equipment ($2,500) that allows a customer wireless access without a preexisting Internet connection, making it ideal for rural areas – even the Isla del Coco, Aizenman said. (The island lies 36 hours by boat from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.)
Isabel Matheson, manager of Bagelmen’s, which has restaurants in San Antonio de Belén (north of San José), Curridabat and San Pedro (both east of the capital), and Escazú – as well as in the food court of the northwestern Mall Cariari in Heredia, though wireless Internet is not available at that location – said the price of wireless equipment has decreased by as much as 50% in recent years, while the availability here as increased.
The daily La Nación reported earlier this year that the Guatemala-based fastfood chain Campero plans to offer wireless Internet in four new stores being built this year in the center of Alajuela (west of the capital), Desamparados (south), Cartago (east) and Ave. 2 in downtown San José.
If the Municipality of San José has its way, wireless Internet will be available not only for the price of a coffee or sandwich, but also for free in public places throughout the city. In December 2005, the municipality and ICE offered free wireless service in the National Park just east of the city center. Renato Cajas of the municipality told The Tico Times that the service, designed as a rehearsal of sorts for future offerings, was very successful; however, it was discontinued because the company that loaned the equipment, Solnet S.A., took the equipment to Colombia.
San José Mayor Johnny Araya is continuing discussions with ICE regarding the possibility of purchasing equipment to offer wireless Internet in various areas of the city by the end of the year, Cajas said.
The first areas to receive the service will likely include the National Park, because of its central location, and public libraries, because they are already equipped with space, desks and bathrooms.
All this is part of Araya’s efforts to make San José a “competitive city,” Cajas said, adding that the municipality laid on extra police officers at National Park in December to protect the equipment and to prevent laptop robberies. There were no reported thefts, he said.
Meanwhile, RACSA is working to offer a different type of wireless series, WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), in greater San José. Unlike WiFi, in which any equipped laptop that enters the coverage zone can pick up the signal, the WiMax technology RACSA has installed in the Escazú-Santa Ana area requires that users purchase a 30-centimeter antenna, which costs $800, that can be installed anywhere within the house, according to RACSA spokesman Mario Zaragoza.
The company has installed a base station at Cerro Abra with a 10-km coverage radius; people within that radius interested in highspeed wireless service should contact RACSA (800-NAVEGAR), which is compiling a list of potential customers. The list has been open since the beginning of April and has approximately 100 people inscribed thus far, Zaragoza told The Tico Times.
As soon as next week, once RACSA’s Board of Directors approves the monthly fee for the service – Zaragoza said it would mostly like by $35 per month, the same as cable-modem service – the company will release a list of dealers authorized to sell the antenna. RACSA is planning to expand the service throughout greater San José, with the next base stations planned for Heredia, north of the capital, and the eastern suburb of San Pedro.
RACSA chose Escazú-Santa Ana for its first base station (and for a pilot program it implemented to test the technology using eight homes and four businesses) because it is highly developed but contains areas without access to cable-modem connections.