Visitors to Chelan who relish this resort town’s sunshine, lake access and people watching will soon be able to add one more free amenity — Wi-Fi in the downtown blocks.
Chelan Free Wi-Fi, a new service offered by the community website Go Lake Chelan, will begin three months of initial testing on March 1 in the commercial core. If all goes well, the service will expand across a larger area of the city and uplake into Manson.
“This is a new way to reach the growing demographic of people who receive information on their smartphones,” said Todd Kelly, co-owner of Go Lake Chelan with Christine Eagar. “It’s basically a way to connect people strolling downtown with news and information that will help them explore and enjoy the area.”
Beta testing of the free Wi-Fi network will launch in a multi-block area stretching approximately from the lakeside Campbell’s Resort to the Tin Lilly restaurant and bar on the corner of East Woodin Avenue and Sanders Street.
Later expansion would include the rest of downtown, the city’s waterfront parks and other areas where tourists and locals gather, said Kelly. The boundaries of free Wi-Fi in Manson have yet to be determined, he added, “but providing the service there is part of the plan.”
Kelly said Chelan Free Wi-Fi is a logical extension of the Go Lake Chelan website, which is now entering its 15th year as a news provider for the Lake Chelan area. “This is the next step in technology,” he said, “and I always love experimenting with new technology.”
The network starts with a Bluetooth broadcast installation along downtown blocks. Shoppers use Bluetooth to connect (via smartphone) to an array of information options — say, a list of restaurants, clothing clearance sales or local attractions — that spotlight Lake Chelan’s commerce and tourism. Amid the marketing is an option for free Wi-Fi and connection to the Internet.
“It’s a system we brought in from the United Kingdom,” said Kelly, “and it’s just starting to pop up in some of the larger malls in the U.S.”
East Wenatchee-based LocalTel Communications has positioned six antennas in Chelan’s downtown core to connect the Bluetooth system with its SkyFi towers, a technology that provides wireless Internet to many areas of North Central Washington.
“It’s a system that will provide simple Internet access, but probably won’t be for heavy data users,” said Dimitri Mandelis, president of LocalTel. “It’ll be perfect for surfing the Web, but probably not for streaming movies.”
Said Kelly, “We’ve been listening hard to visitors and locals about what they’d like to see next from Go Lake Chelan, and this is it. Connecting with people on their smartphones is, well, the smart thing to do.”