Tag: "Wireless"

Posted September 19, 2011 by

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 Mitchell

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

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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:

Posted August 10, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Craig Settles has been pumping out some in-depth interviews with community networks on his new Gigabit Nation audio show. This show discusses a wireless network built using a public-private partnership in Franklin County, Virginia.

The approach is outlined in this case study [pdf] and excerpted here:

Franklin County formed a partnership with a local wireless Internet service provider (WISP) to expand the County's local government wide-area network and provide broadband options for the citizens. The project leveraged County structures such as towers and water tanks for WISP transmitters and receivers. We were in the process of upgrading the public safety radio system at the same time, so the two efforts worked together to identify possible new tower locations that would improve radio coverage and meet broadband demand.

The partnership provided the WISP with a fast-path to business growth through additional funding and access to existing infrastructure. The County provided space on towers, tanks and poles in exchange for Internet service at County offices. This arrangement lowered deployment costs for the WISP, expediting business growth.

The partnership expanded the WISP customer base in Franklin County from 98 customers in early 2005 to approximately 1000 in early 2008. In addition, 15 fire and rescue stations were added to the County’s wide-area-network (WAN) in addition to five other County offices. There are many advantages to moving remote offices onto the WAN, including reduced costs and improved communications and data sharing across County Administration. The wireless mesh network supports data and voice and the WISP is currently segmenting the County's voice traffic on their network to ensure quality of service (QoS).

A case study from Motorola [pdf] notes that Franklin County has received awards for its approach:

At the 10th annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium in 2008, Governor Timothy M. Kaine awarded Franklin County with one of the Technology Awards for Excellence for the County’s innovative approach to the use of...

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Posted August 3, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

During the recent budget negotiations, one plan called for taking valuable wireless spectrum that is intended to be used as a commons and auctioning it off the massive corporations to monopolize. Rather than enabling a whole new generation of wireless technologies that would create countless jobs and ongoing opportunities for innovation (some have described it as Wi-Fi on steroids), it would have created a one-time cash infusion while further consolidating the incomparable market power of AT&T and Verizon. Preserving as much spectrum as possible as unlicensed commons allows communities, small businesses, and activists to build the wireless networks they need because they cannot afford to license spectrum for their sole use.

Wally Bowen wrote the following op-ed urging a more sensible approach. Fortunately, the spectrum auction was dropped from the plan - but it will undoubtedly come up again. This was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on July 31 and is reprinted here with permission.

U.S. House Republicans are pushing a proposal to sell off some of the nation's most valuable real estate as part of a debt-ceiling deal, apparently unaware of the harm it will do our economy.

This real estate is a portion of the public airwaves so valuable that it's been called the "Malibu beachfront" of the electromagnetic spectrum. This lower-frequency spectrum, previously reserved for broadcast radio and TV, is far superior to "Wi-Fi" frequencies used for Internet access - and for innovative devices ranging from microwave ovens and cordless phones to garage-door openers and baby monitors.

This prime spectrum can deliver broadband speeds that support high-definition video for telemedicine in rural and other underserved areas. This spectrum is especially plentiful in rural America, and could help connect millions of low-income citizens to affordable broadband services. It could also spark a new wave of high-tech innovation and job-creation far greater than the Wi-Fi boom of the last 25 years.

Wi-Fi Logo

The genius behind the first wave of Wi-Fi innovation was unlicensed spectrum. Though these higher frequencies were once considered "junk bands" by radio engineers...

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