WINSTON-The City of Winston-Salem will offer free high-speed wireless Internet access along its “restaurant row” on Fourth Street in about 90 days.

“We’re working with Cisco Systems now, and we think it will be the first free public ‘hotspot’ for wireless access in North Carolina,” says Dennis Newman, Winston-Salem’s chief information officer.

Those who do will surf or work at a blistering 11-megabyte per second speed to surf or work online. That’s 10 times faster than most high-speed cable modem connections.

The cost of implementing the system is surprisingly small, Newman says, although he declines to name a figure. “The infrastructure, such as fiber optic cable, is the big cost for something like this and that’s already in place. You can buy access points for under $100.”

Wireless access (Wi-Fi) uses a short-range radio antenna to broadcast Internet signals to a limited area and can be focused to just the five-block stretch of Fourth Street. The antenna is hooked up to a conventional land-based broadband Internet connection, the city’s own ISP, but users won’t have to worry about that.

Newman says the system will use the 802.11 standard. “Anyone with wireless enabled laptop, PC, or personal digital assistant will see it and be able to use it,” he says.

Newman says offering the free high-speed wireless on Fourth Street, hub of its downtown, fits in well with several of the city’s economic development goals. It wants to attract more 18-35 year-olds downtown, supports the technology center there, and follows other improvements to the street.

Winston-Salem recently completed a $2.6 million project to widen the Street’s sidewalks, making it more attractive for outdoor dining, street-sales, and other events aimed at attracting pedestrian traffic.