[Chtechcomm] Boulder Gets Solar-Powered Wi-Fi

Terri Buckner tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Tue Aug 16 14:50:01 EDT 2005

*Boulder Gets Solar-Powered Wi-Fi

Things have suddenly gotten very busy at Lumin Innovative Products 
<http://www.luminip.com/> in Boulder, Colorado. On July 15^th , 18 
months after the company formed around co-founder Ben Adams's concept 
for solar-powered Wi-Fi networks, Lumin deployed its first access points 
at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Since that successful launch, the 
four-person staff has been deluged with inquiries from press, people 
looking for work, potential investors, and prospective clients.

Lumin's first-generation product is the LightWave AP-1000 solar-powered 
access point, which comes in two models, single and dual. The Pearl 
Street deployment utilizes four dual units, each of which is located out 
of sight on a well-chosen rooftop, and features two hinged solar panels. 
(The single unit LightWave includes only one panel.) While each access 
point has a potential range of up to 30 miles, this deployment, which 
only covers a six-block area, required four APs due to the number of 
trees interfering with line-of-sight along the cobblestoned outdoor mall.

The decision to bring free Wi-Fi to Pearl Street [/though not the first 
solar-powered Wi-Fi in the country, as was pointed out by/ Daily 
was made by the Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District 
<http://www.dbi.org/>. Lumin designed the units with more remote areas 
in mind, locations where there is little or no available 
power--obviously not the case in downtown Boulder. But the 
environmentally-friendly power source enticed the Pearl Street planners 
into becoming the first clients. The network cost $10,000 to deploy, but 
upkeep costs will essentially be nil. The rechargeable batteries need to 
be swapped out every so often, but the solar panels are built to run for 
25-30 years.

The science behind LightWave is actually quite simple. "Basically, you 
open the solar panels, they charge the batteries, and the batteries 
power the system," says Lumin co-founder Sally Lyon.

While the weather in Boulder is beautiful much of the year, it's not the 
kind of place one might think of as a prime location for solar-powered 
equipment. Cloudy, rainy, snowy, and overcast days are normal. But, says 
Lyon, the notion that solar panels must be located somewhere with direct 
sun year-round is a misconception.

"The solar panels are so sophisticated that we can register a charge 
from the moon," says Lyon. "It's a myth that it can only be used in the 
Southwest. In the complete, pitch black night is the only time when 
there's no charge. On a cloudy day, it's charging."

It only takes five hours of direct sun--or the cumulative equivalent 
amount of light over a longer period of time--to charge the battery 
completely. A fully-charged battery can power one LightWave for 72 hours.

"Even if you were in a complete snowstorm for a couple of days, you've 
still got a system running," says Lyon. "The reality is, for all 
practical purposes, it's a reliable system with an abundant energy 
source, and in the long term, it's extremely cost-effective."

Because a 100 percent solar-powered network will continue to run even 
when electricity is out, and LightWave offers enterprise level security, 
it has obvious "homeland security" and emergency management uses.

"When power's out, the first 24 hours can be crucial to saving lives," 
says Lyon. "If the system is already in place, and if a disaster strikes 
and takes out power, our network will still be operational. They are 
also very portable, so if FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency 
<http://www.fema.gov/>] has a supply of them, they can move into an area 
that has lost power and set it up very quickly, mobilize search and 
rescue, do resource management. The infrastructure would already be in 
place, it could be functioning with VoIP all the time. For instance, the 
tsunami area... it would have made a major difference in that area. 
There are smaller examples all over the world."

Currently, the company is seeking its next round of funding. The R&D 
phase was funded by the founders' own resources, along with micro loans 
from friends and family.

"We told people it would work, but now there's a third-party 
endorsement, we're looking for a pretty major infusion of capital," says 

Adams, Lumin's co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, has a military 
background along with several months of civilian service during 
"Operation Iraqi Freedom," both of which sparked his interest in making 
portable and secure wireless networks possible in desert or other remote 

"The last thing he was doing before he left the military," says Lyon, 
"was building a network for a training in the middle of the desert... He 
was tasked to do this, but how do you build a network with no power 
source? He couldn't find anything on the market, so he ended up just 
sort of putting together a system off a rental car battery, with the 
antenna on the roof. While he was roasting in the desert, he thought, 
'If I only had a solar panel.'"

It seems Adams has made his wish come true. But the company isn't 
stopping there.

"Our mission," says Lyon, "is to explore and expand the realm of global 
communication. We want to empower people and connect them in ways they 
never before imagined. And we mean /all/ people. We think this 
technology in the developing world, in terms of information and health 
care, it just makes sense... Where power is a luxury, we can bring 
everything to a place like that, because this technology allows us to 
create networks that have unlimited possibilities."

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