No, that headline is not a joke by Garrison Keillor. From a state better known for wind chill and the latest in fur-trimmed parka fashion, a plan to create a wireless mesh network with nodes powered by batteries refreshed via solar panels is gathering steam. Kimo Crossman tipped me off to this article in the Star Tribune, which answers most of the basic questions about how it works.
The solar panels being used are apparently the same type already being used for highway signs across the country. The battery system is theoretically capable of lasting nearly seven years between replacement. And all the hardware is promised to work even during the dead of winter, through snow and sub-freezing temps.
The cost of deploying and maintaining individual access points will be significantly cheaper over time than the current practice of installing them primarily on utility poles connected to the power grid according to proponents. More interestingly, this type of mesh network could be deployed where there’s no power grid at all, meaning that besides being a green solution, it could also be an data infrastracture development solution for the emerging world.
Developed by ARINC, a Bethesda, Maryland company with a long history in aeronautical communication technology, the city of St. Louis Park outside of Minneapolis will see the first deployment consisting of 400 nodes over 10 square miles. 300 residents are already testing the network, which is not currently solar powered, and the local city council should reach a final decision on the project Monday.