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USI Wireless, Minneapolis' City-Wide Wi-Fi Internet Service

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There are several ways to get connected to the internet in Minneapolis. As well as the traditional cable and DSL internet providers, the City of Minneapolis has had a municipal, city-wide, wireless internet service since 2008.

Minnetonka-based USI Wireless manages Minneapolis' wi-fi network.

The system works from a network of wi-fi antenna, called wireless nodes, mounted on light poles and other structures across the city of Minneapolis. There's usually a node near each street intersection.

USI Wireless is the cheapest way to get on the internet in Minneapolis. Considering standalone internet service, USI Wireless is significantly cheaper especially when subscribers pay for a year in advance.

To access the internet, subscribers need, at the minimum, a computer or a laptop with a wireless card. Signing up with USI Wireless will give you a user name and password to receive USI Wireless' signal.

A nice benefit of a city-wide wi-fi network is that you can use it anywhere in the city, with your laptop or mobile device, or with any computer with a wireless card.

At this level of service, only one computer can access the internet at once. Bad news for families and multi-computer houses.

Accessing USI Wireless directly can also be rather slow. So to solve these problems, USI Wireless suggests that you buy one of their wireless modems. In 2010, the modems cost $79.95 or can be rented for a monthly charge.

USI Wireless' modems, installed in your home or business, improve the signal strength and generally result in higher speeds and more reliable connections. You can connect more than one computer using the same USI Wireless account. And if you have a computer without a wireless card, it can be plugged directly into the modem via an ethernet port.

Even with a modem, accounts of the reliability and speed of USI Wireless internet service vary widely. The majority of houses in Minneapolis can receive a good, reliable signal with a wireless modem. But, a sizable number can't. Because the system is wireless, how far you are from a wireless node, and what is in between the node and your computer or modem affect the signal significantly. That includes common objects like the walls of your house, other buildings and trees. Stucco walls often contain metal which can block signals. Living above the fourth floor in an apartment building means you probably can't receive a signal. And sometimes it seems that there's no rhyme or reason for not getting a good signal.

The bottom line, it seems, is that if you can receive a decent signal, then USI Wireless is a cheap, reliable alternative to Minneapolis' other internet service providers. If you plan to switch to USI Wireless, check out their refund and cancellation policies if the service doesn't work at your home, and it would be prudent to refrain from switching off your existing internet service provider until you have USI Wireless working well for you.

That's just my opinion though. Do you have USI Wireless? Did you used to have USI Wireless? How did it work out for you? Please share your experiences, good and bad, of using USI Wireless.

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