Tag: "Wireless"

Posted September 27, 2011 by ejames

Two hours northwest of the nation’s capital lies rural Allegany County, in western Maryland on the border with Pennsylvania.  In the mid-1990s, before cable internet was even widely available, the county launched a successful wireless carrier network that would expand into an envied public model.  In 1996, the State of Maryland offered financial assistance to wire public schools.  They used a wireless solution due to the high costs of fiber-optic cables then. To raise funds and pool grant dollars from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the school partnered with fellow agencies Allegany County, Allegany County Library System, and the City of Cumberland.  The new Allegany County Network (AllCoNet) placed its first wireless antenna atop the courthouse, the county’s highest point, and launched the network at a cost of $4.3 million.  

The network that evolved into AllCoNet began with far more modest goals than restoring prosperity to the county. In 1996, the State of Maryland offered financial incentives to help wire public school buildings for fast Internet access. But connecting the public schools with fiber-optic cable would have been prohibitively expensive. As an alternative, Jeff Blank, the microcomputing and networking supervisor for Allegany County Public Schools, suggested a wireless network in which signals would be transmitted via microwave relays, traveling from one high point to another. Mounting the first antenna at the top of the Allegany County courthouse, one of Cumberland's high points, seemed only logical, and so began a common-sense venture in interagency cooperation. (ARC Magazine)

The early justification for such a network was rooted in the private sector avoidance of building in rural areas but also the pressing demand for economic growth and good broadband technology being just outside the nation’s major eastern cities.  To eliminate the Digital Divide, AllCoNet looked to provide carrier class, affordable service to public entities like government and schools while upholding an open access model to let private companies serve the public at reasonable costs -- avoiding massive infrastructure debt.  

With the information economy building into the 2000s and private sector interest increasing, the partnership...

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Posted September 22, 2011 by christopher

I received a request from a student looking for people to complete a short poll to help his research into community wireless.  He is looking for anyone presently contributing to a wireless network or anyone historically involved in one.  Thanks!

Posted September 19, 2011 by ejames

In the place where “Texas history lives,” the City of Granbury followed a fellow Texas city in delivering a Tropos wifi system that covers all 10 square miles of the city.  Less than a decade ago, Granbury had no functional IT department and after hurdles with a private public partnership, established a functional and successful publicly-owned wireless network.  Initially created to support city functions and mobile police, the network is available to the public, elevating the rural town outside of Fort Worth to the mobile age.

When Granbury hired IT Director Tony Tull in 2003, the technology capabilities of the city were dire: no staff, a budget of $6,000, and only two buildings with access.   Tull quickly brought city and council officials on-board to his ambitious technology plan to deploy wireless WAN to all city buildings in partnership with their existing ISP, Texas-based Frontier Broadband (now acquired by KeyOn).  The initial needs were to equip city personnel with mobile access which focused on police officers, firefighters, and city inspectors.

Other goals included general public and tourist broadband access, reading utility meters, perform live web casts, and connect to nearby governmental networks.   After the City received a Homeland Security grant, $70,000 was earmarked to outfit over 10 police vehicles with wireless laptops.  In 2004 Tull attended the Public Technology Institute’s National Summit for Local Governments in Corpus Christi where he reviewed the city’s 147 square mile wireless network by Tropos.  Convinced the technology was right, Granbury deployed a test run of 40 routers across half the city and eventually 100 more to cover the roughly 10 square miles.

The initial returns on investment came eight months after launch when the police department returned $78,000 in budgeted police salary overtime.  The department later reduced its 2005 budget by $100,000.  The City has also saved time and money with the network reading digital meters, assisting building inspectors and providing cheaper connections to municipal buildings.  The total start-up costs were $325,000 which included acquisition costs, infrastructure, and the Tropos price of $68,000 for each square mile of the network.  City departments continue to streamline with the system and since 2007 public users have been accessing the network for $5.95 daily or...

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Posted September 16, 2011 by christopher

Is subscription sales the only way our municipality is going to see a return on our $500,000 [city-owned wireless network]? Not really. We see other benefits. Police on the street longer because they can do their reports from the cars rather than the squad room. More information to our firefighters before they make scene on a possible structure fire. AMR project. Tourist access to city wide internet. These are all hard dollar and soft dollar returns that are real.

Posted September 13, 2011 by ejames

The Southern Maryland Independent reports the Charles County Technology Council brought together local innovators in technology and environmental sustainability on September 10.   The event featured the county's public service innovations in the field as well as showcasing electric vehicles and solar energy technologies.  In addition, the newspaper noted the Charles County Public Library's (CCPL) downtown wireless network, in partnership with the town of La Plata, has been expanded with 15 wireless access points and exceeds 1,000 users per month.  The Library has also upgraded its public workstations to lower wattage computers, reducing both energy usage and heat output.

For over a year, the La Plata downtown wireless zone is available free to the general public.  The wifi project began in 2008 when the CCPL applied for an Innovation Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Though La Plata budgeted a matching $50,000, the grant was turned down but the partnership between the Town and Library continued.  In 2010, the Library agreed to assume administrative and technical maintenance while the Town used its budgeted funds to deploy equipment.  CCPL provides T1 backbone to wireless routers purchased from San Francisco-based Meraki.   Private owners agree to lend rooftop space for nodes at no cost.   In September 2010, the system went online and later expanded to include much of Downtown back to the Town Hall.  Last June, the system hit a milestone 1,000 unique users--La Plata's population is about 8,700.   The Town now looks to continue expanding the availability but also to move into utilities and municipal services.  [More information found in their powerpoint.]

The La Plata model was looked at this summer by nearby town of Berlin, also exploring public wi-fi. Via Ocean City Today:

The town of La Plata in Charles County successfully coordinated a free...

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Posted September 8, 2011 by christopher

The good folks at Public Knowledge have released a report (with a fun video, embedded below) appropriately titled, "4G + Data Caps = Magic Beans." These are the fraudulent version of magic beans - don't expect any beanstalks to data clouds.

The 4G offered by major wireless carriers (with the notable exception of Sprint) is a waste of money because it comes with strict data caps. These data caps actively discourage the types of activities that 4G enables. Activities that are made possible by 4G, such as watching movies or uploading video to the internet, are made impossible by the data caps. As a result most users will avoid taking advantage of these new services out of fear of incurring large overage fees. That makes capped 4G little more than a bait and switch, like being sold a handful of magic beans.

I have been disturbed by statements from a number of policymakers and elected officials suggesting they believe the future of connectivity in rural America is wireless, specifically 4G because it is better than the horrible DSL that is mostly the only "broadband" connection available in much of rural America.

President Obama has suggested that investing in 4G wireless will spur economic development in northern Michigan. Not hardly. What are small businesses going to use the last 29 days of the month after they exceed their data caps?

People in Wired West have told me that those in charge of broadband in Massachusetts have at times been dismissive of their project to bring affordable, fast, and reliable broadband to everyone in their towns because the state would prefer to pretend that cheaper wireless solutions will accomplish the same goal.

4G wireless is not the solution to connecting rural America. It could be an interim solution while we build real broadband out to those areas, but it is insufficient as a solution in and of itself due to the many very real limitations of the technology and the business model of those controlling the spectrum necessary to access to it.

Posted August 26, 2011 by christopher

Silicon Valley Power, a muni electric in Santa Clara, was smart when fibering-up its electrical plant. They overbuilt their needs and are using the additional capacity to benefit the community. One of the biggest beneficiaries are the schools and taxpayers that support them.

That brought to mind my recent conversation with Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility built fiber between its subsystems to increase the organization’s reliability. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. The electric company also purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect new smart energy meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to deliver free outdoor Wi-Fi access to anyone within Santa Clara.

I remember reading about this network earlier this year in a Public Power Daily release:

The technology and added bandwidth capacity allow teachers to hold virtual field trips and will eventually allow students who are unable to attend school the opportunity to join their classrooms via a home computer, Silicon Valley Power said. Download speeds have made classrooms more efficient, the utility said.

"Before the fiber network, the download process was very slow and sometimes wouldn't work at all when my class tried to use streaming video to add to our lessons," said Jennifer Rodriguez, who teaches a fourth- and fifth- grade combo class at Katherine Hughes Elementary School. "Now I can utilize instructional videos off the web and stream them quickly, making the lesson more interesting and the learning more fun for my students."

Posted August 25, 2011 by christopher

Santa Monica's approach to building community owned broadband that puts the community first has been wildly successful. They have not focused on providing residential connections, and likely will not in the future, focusing instead on meeting their municipal needs and businesses to spur economic development.

They can deliver up to 10Gbps to businesses that need it and they have connectivity throughout the City for whatever projects they choose to pursue. This includes free Wi-Fi in parks, controlling traffic signaling (prioritizing mass transit, for instance), and smart parking applications. On top of all that, their investments have saved more than a million dollars that would have been wasted on slower, less reliable connections provided by leased lines.

In the matter of controlling traffic signals, Santa Monica wants all intersections with fiber-optics.

Arizona Avenue, the Mid-City area and the city's office district will all be getting makeovers if the City Council approves two contracts that will connect 40 signalized intersections to City Hall's centralized traffic control system.

The work represents the fourth phase in a five-phase effort to connect all of Santa Monica's intersections using fiber optic cables. Some signals will need to be fully replaced, while others can get by on smaller upgrades, according to the staff report.

Don't miss this hour long interview between Craig Settles and Jory Wolf, the brains behind Santa Monica's success.

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Posted August 15, 2011 by christopher

Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:

For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.

Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.

The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.

As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.

A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.

Wireless symbol

“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”

It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.

Bob Doak, president and CEO of...

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Posted August 13, 2011 by christopher

One of the benefits of community ownership is the public should be more open to trying innovative strategies to maximize benefits from the network than a private corporation is because the corporation only cares to maximize profit. And the larger the corporation, the higher the tendency to avoid innovation to minimize any potential risk.

When the folks at KeyWifi developed an entrepreneurial approach to sharing Wi-Fi connections, they began approaching community networks as a natural partner. For those community fiber networks that don't want to build a wireless network on top of it, this could be a middle ground to get some of the benefits from such a network - particularly for small businesses that do not use their connections in the evening, as outlined toward the end of the TED talk below:

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