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High Point exploring Wi-Fi

HIGH POINT — Buyers, reps and other High Point Market attendees who have grown weary of dropped cell phone calls and limited access to the Web on mobile devices at market may soon see some improvements to their service.

 High Point, Furniture, Wi-FiThis map shows the area in which the City of High Point is considering offering free Wi-Fi service. It would encompass most of the city’s furniture showrooms.

The City of High Point, along with North State Communications and owners of market buildings downtown, are working on a plan to boost both cell phone and wireless capacity in and around the primary market area.

One part of the project involves increasing cell phone and Wi-Fi capacity in properties owned by International Market Centers, including the International Home Furnishings Center, Showplace, Market Square and other smaller properties on North Hamilton Street.

IMC is expected to participate in that part of the project with support from High Point-based telecommunications provider North State - the local partner with AT&T for wireless service - along with Verizon, T-Mobile and others seeking to boost capacity on their 3G and 4G networks.

However, since this part of the project is in the planning phases, officials could not say what aspects of that plan would be in place when.

"We have some details to work out and we are still in the design and approval process," said Mike Snider, vice president of operations for the IMC properties. "It will be a phased project and is not something that will happen overnight."

The city of High Point also is working on a plan to offer free Wi-Fi service in the downtown area, although it would not reach inside the showroom buildings, officials said. The goal of this is to allow both marketgoers and the public to be able to use their smartphones or iPads outdoors without interruptions in service.

Officials also did not reveal specific costs associated with each plan. However, they said the investment could collectively reach several million dollars or more.

High Point City Manager Strib Boynton said the issue of dropped cell phone calls isn't new. However, it became more obvious last fall due to complaints from market attendees experiencing issues with a host of new technologies such as smartphones and iPads.

"Listening to market visitors and reps, it became quickly apparent ... that there was not enough capacity in the buildings or in the downtown area," Boynton said. "There is a priority to address the infrastructure issues within the IMC properties, and I am very hopeful most of that can be addressed by the April market."

Carlos Capo, an executive vice president and chief buyer with Miami Gardens, Fla.-based Top 100 store El Dorado Furniture, and a regular market visitor, said that limited cell phone, iPad and laptop reception has been an issue in High Point.

"The idea of having this mobile device is to be able to move," he said, adding that he welcomed the proposed improvements in capacity. "I know this will be a costly improvement for them, but these are effective tools for the marketgoer."

Neil MacKenzie, director of marketing for case goods resource Stanley Furniture, said that his company offers free Wi-Fi in its IHFC showroom. He applauded efforts the building is making to improve wireless reception, saying that reception can sometimes be "spotty at best."

He welcomed further improvements to boost cell phone and other wireless capacity.

"I think it is just providing a better framework to allow people to have a better experience at market," he said, noting that retailers and designers often want to stay connected to their stores and clients when they are traveling. "Obviously, if we can improve the infrastructure that supports these things, it is one of the ways to help improve the overall market experience."

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