The Seattle suburb has turned into a city in its own right: The town of Bellevue was once looked down by Seattle residents on as a lesser bedroom community, albeit one with vastly better schools than the city proper. Now, Bellevue has a huge and prosperous downtown with buildings that don't quite scrape the sky, but make a stab at it--and will have a downtown Wi-Fi zone long before Seattle moves in that direction. (The highway that crosses Lake Washington from Seattle to Bellevue is spitting distance from my home.)
Bellevue told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's John Cook today that they would deploy a 1.5-acre network across downtown, including the Meydenbauer Center, home to the recent 20,000-attendee Penny Arcade Expo, City Hall, and Downtown Park, and Bellevue Square, an upscale mall that has grown enormously in recent years. The city plans to expand the network to cover its entire area, ultimately, and has a strong focus on utility for municipal employees.
There are few places that people live in this initial coverage area, and it's a good place to start. Somewhere north of several thousand people come into this part of Bellevue for work and meetings each day, and it's not far from T-Mobile USA's headquarters, either. Microsoft has offices in downtown, too, as they've long outgrown their nearby Redmond headquarters.
Mobile workers and those with offices in the area who want to get out will see a huge benefit from an outdoor network, as they will already have the gear and be using it in their Wi-Fi and Internet-equipped offices. T-Mobile has launched the first unlicensed mobile access (UMA) network in the US--combining seamless calling across cellular and Wi-Fi network--in the greater Seattle area, and the Bellevue network may attract users of the dual-network service.
The network will be available to service providers, the first of which will be HarborLink of Ohio, which will offer free, advertising-supported access, and provide the city a 10-percent cut of revenue. The city hopes to wholesale service to other providers under other terms, as well. Cisco Systems has provided a no-cost loan for 180 days to the city of the necessary gear, which could be leased ($25K to $35K per year), sold ($101K), or returned ($0).
Seattle has a couple of neighborhood test networks, as noted in this article, but its focus has been on citywide fiber, with fiber-oriented firms having bid on an outstanding RFP. The RFP mentions Wi-Fi as an optional extra, not a requirement.