Mayor Sandy Stimpson and members of his IT department used wire cutters to slice through a strand of network cables this morning, symbolically marking the debut of free public Wi-Fi hotspots in Bienville and Cathedral squares in downtown Mobile.

“For us to have a more robust downtown, family friendly, our citizens are expecting us to have this internet access,” Stimpson said. “We hope that you’ll come down and whether you’re researching the rich history of our city, whether you’re paying bills, or just communicating with friends, we hope you’ll come down and take advantage of this free service provided by the city of Mobile.”

Mayor Sandy Stimpson and members of the city's IT department cut the "ribbon" on free public Wi-Fi at Bienville Square in downtown Mobile Feb. 21.

The new networks use existing infrastructure plus $5,592 worth of new equipment and maintenance agreements from Aerohive, a wireless technology firm working under contract with the city. Routers were installed on buildings owned by the city in or around the squares, according to acting city IT Director Sue Farni.

“It was something I had come across at a conference that was much more reasonable than what we’d been looking at to put some Wi-Fi in public places,” she said. “We did a test case last fall and it worked good, so went ahead and got the equipment. The staff at city hall was able to do all the design and configuration ourselves.”

Farni said the city is hoping to expand the service to Medal of Honor Park and Lyons Park, eventually looking at other places citizens and tourists frequent.

“We could do that relatively cheaply,” she said.

Farni said prior to the announcement, the system has handled a high of 167 users per day. Like any Wi-Fi network, the number of users active at any one time affects its speed, so it may be less efficient during events like BayFest or Mardi Gras. Current download speeds are approximately 16Mbps, but it can be lowered to accommodate more users. Otherwise, there are no limitations on who can access the hotspots, Farni said.

“Internet access is critical to Mobile’s digital future, and we’re excited to bring this new service to two of our most historic and treasured public spaces,” Stimpson said.