Beach Wifi on Belle Isle is free – if you can find it

This iPhone shows weak reception from a bench in Belle Isle Park

The city of Miami Beach launched its free wireless experiment last year to much interest and fanfare. Through a partnership with IBM, wireless nodes were placed throughout the Beach to enable city employees, residents and tourists to access the web gratis.

The city went out of its way to warn the wireless had limits – it wouldn’t be fast, available everywhere, or something you could count on to replace your DSL or cable broadband. And it wouldn’t work higher than the third floor in any building, so high-rise neighborhoods like Belle Isle had no reason for great expectations. The city has a helpful FAQ.

Even so, it could be a nice amenity, providing wifi for your iPhone and a cool way to use your laptop at poolside at various buildings or in Belle Isle Park.

With that in mind, the Belle Isle Blog set out to test the signal from a variety of points around the island.

Using a MacBook Pro and a 3GS iPhone, we started in the park, in the corner near the Grand Venetian and Belle Plaza. At our first test spot, both devices detected the City of Miami Beach WiFi signal, but neither could connect. The laptop appeared to connect, but Firefox wouldn’t fire up to allow a login. Same with the iPhone.

We had better luck in the southwest corner of the park, sitting on a bench. We connected with the iPhone, and were able to register for service (you need to provide a login and password, but there is no residency requirement – you just need a valid email address). Then we loaded the homepage of NTYimes.com. W can’t say it was even as fast as the iPhone 3G connection, though. The laptop worked, too, though VERY slowly, and we loaded the miamiherald.com home page. But then we timed out.

Next stop, in a parked card in the residential parking spaces in front of Belle Isle Key (this was mid-afternoon, and we actually nuzzled into a space). This was slightly better than the last spot, which was on the bench in front of 9 Island Avenue.

Last stop for our first experiment: The 9 Island pool deck. Sunday afternoon. Not usuable on either device. I think the pool deck qualifies as a  second floor, so we were hopeful.

We did pick up signals from a bunch of units in 9 Island and Island Terrace, including one Island Terrace resident who hasn’t discovered security incryption. But that’s going to stay a Belle Isle Blog secret.

The scorecard after our first round of tests: Two marginally successful spots from center island, but both so slow that they were more frustration than a meaningful connection.

We’ll try and work our way around to other spots on the island, as well as the city during the next week.

We’d love to have some help, and learn if service is any better from pool decks at in other buildings, or with different equipment, or even at different times of day.

If you have the chance to test, post a comment or fire an email to belleisleblog@me.com.

UPDATE: From a reader on MiamiHerald.com/miami-beach:

sctimm wrote on 02/16/2010 09:54:24 AM:

Thanks for the testing experiment. I tried to connect with an iPhone on the 1100 block of Lincoln Rd. I was able to join the MB Wireless network, but couldn’t get the login page to load. (I had previously created my account using a laptop.) I tried other locations along Lincoln Rd – both with a laptop and iPhone – but could never get connected. I think the network still needs a lot of tweaking. I look forward to your upcoming tests.

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