Tucson CIO specifies biggest ‘pain point’ of private wireless

Tucson CIO Collin Boyce discusses challenges of building a private wireless network. (FierceWireless)

FierceWireless just wrapped another of our great virtual events, this one on private wireless. You can check out all the sessions on demand.

One of the most interesting (and sometimes amusing) presentations was from Collin Boyce, CIO for the City of Tucson, Arizona. Boyce led the charge to build a CBRS-based LTE private wireless network for Tucson, during the middle of the pandemic. He was motivated to provide the network to help kids who needed the internet in order to attend their classes.

Here’s a clip of Boyce’s presentation where he talks about some of the biggest pain points of the do-it-yourself private wireless network. He said the biggest pain point was (drum roll): local providers in Tucson who did not have an acceptable connectivity product to offer, but nevertheless “did not want us to do this kind of work.”

There were some other pain points, too. Boyce said the CBRS spectrum propagation “wasn’t as good as we hoped.”

But the technical hurdles were not the biggest challenge by any means. The biggest challenges arose from people. 

Boyce said, “People are scared of wireless,” referring to rumors and reports that 5G causes health hazards. People would call into Tucson City Council meetings and try to convince the city not to build a private wireless network.

The city also ran into an unusual problem. While it was deploying towers in a couple of locations, it was notified that the towers were being set up on Native American burial grounds.

RELATED: Tucson stands up CBRS network with help from Insight, JMA, Geoverse and Tilson

Ultimately, with tenacity, Boyce did oversee the building of an LTE private wireless network for Tucson.

“We’ve deployed somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 radio stations throughout the city, and we’re connecting right now over 800-900 citizens to our network, which is an amazing thing that we’re doing,” he said.

As far as solving its pain points, Boyce said the city came up with an education program to convince citizens that they don’t need to be afraid of wireless signals. And for the burial grounds, the city hired Native Americans “to stand with the people erecting towers to make sure we didn’t disturb the remains that were considered sacred.” 

"With the local providers pushing back, well that’s still a problem,” said Boyce. “We’re fighting through that.”