Municipal wireless networks continue to thrive

There seems to be no letup when it comes to municipal broadband wireless networks.

Just within the past 10 days, several cities from across the nation formally launched or announced plans to build Wi-Fi systems, capped by Cisco Systems' official entrance into the municipal wireless market Nov. 15. The company announced it has deployed mesh networks in Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Ore.

Dayton currently provides the Wi-Fi access in a one-square-mile area, but is planning to broaden that to 55 square miles by the end of 2006. Forty percent of Lebanon, which has a population of 13,000, is covered by the wireless network.

In both places, Cisco tested and deployed its Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol, which enables remote access points (APs) to find the best routes, resulting in greater efficiency of a wireless network.

Cisco is also using its Aironet 1500 Series access points, which are secure, minimize radio frequency interference and require less maintenance than some other APs, according to company officials. If there is an interruption in a system, such as a power outage, the Aironet APs can configure themselves automatically to operate within a network once power is restored.

The company announced several other products to better manage wireless networking devices. One solution is called the Unified Wireless Architecture, which allows municipalities or organizations to manage both their indoor and outdoor wired and wireless networks – including different long-range devices and operating systems – from one central point.

Ben Gibson, director of Cisco’s Wireless/Mobility Marketing unit, said managing systems separately is costlier and requires more personnel for maintenance. A centralized system is easier to use and total cost of ownership is lower, he said.

The cities of Temecula, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz., have also recently announced plans to deploy a municipal Wi-Fi network. In both cases, San Diego-based Wireless Facilities Inc. (WFI), which designs, deploys and manages wireless communication networks, will implement Tropos Networks mesh network architecture.

In Temecula, WFI expects to deploy the network in the first quarter of 2006. Within Tucson’s deployment, WFI is developing Emergency Room Link (ER-Link) to provide video and patient telemetry services between ambulances and the University of Arizona’s University Medical Center. The service could be extended to other hospitals. The entire municipal wireless project is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2006.

In downtown Lexington, Ky., SkyTel has rolled out a commercial Wi-Fi service this week. The company, which is a unit of MCI, has designed, built and is managing the service. SkyTel is charging residents, businesses and others monthly and daily rates. It’s also offering hourly rates to the visitors of the city.

Cities and towns are deploying municipal wireless networks for several reasons, including economic development and better, more efficient communication among public safety and other government agencies. Municipal officials also want to offer more affordable Internet service to their residents.

In the past year, several major cities, including Philadelphia and San Francisco, have announced plans to deploy major wireless networks in their city. Earthlink was selected to build Philadelphia’s estimated $20 million network, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2006.

On Nov. 8, San Francisco city officials announced they will formally request proposals for the network later this month. The city issued a request for information in August that garnered 300 comments and 26 proposals, including one from Google, which will partner with WFI to bid on the project. Officials plan to select a bidder early next year.

Earlier this week, Mountain View, Calif., city officials accepted an offer from Google, which is based there, to create a municipalwide wireless Internet network at no cost to the city. The company would deploy transmitters on streetlight poles and the network would be operational by June 2006. The City Council has authorized the city manager to begin negotiations with Google to draw up a five-year contract.

“This test network allows Google to easily test new services and products and gain a better understanding of how this emerging technology is being used,” a Nov. 15 staff report to the City Council states. “Google also believes that offering a no-cost WiFi service is key to closing the digital divide in communities, and they are willing to commit its resources to that end result.”

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