Council Bluffs partners with Google, Ruckus and others to expand free school and local Wi-Fi network

Thanks to partnerships with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), local entrepreneurs and a host of vendors, a group in Council Bluffs, Iowa, launched a free municipal Wi-Fi network that it hopes to keep expanding this year and into next and beyond.

Late last week the Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium officially rolled out "BLink," the Bluffs Community Wi-Fi network, after more than a year of planning. The network is entirely free and covers around 800 acres, according to David Fringer, CTO for the Council Bluffs Community School District.

In the spring of 2014 the school district approved a strategic plan that included a strategy to expand its Wi-Fi network for students into the wider community. Then the Council Bluffs city and the school district formed what is known as a 28-E organization, essentially a partnership between the city and the district, to expand free community Wi-Fi and the network for the district's students.

The city already had a Wi-Fi network, but Fringer said the new network upgraded those hotspots and expanded them. Phase 1 of the project covers 800 acres and Phase 2 is in the final planning stages and should hopefully be deployed by Christmas to include about another 800 acres, or roughly one square mile, Fringer said in an interview with FierceWirelessTech.

Fringer said that the consortium got backing from Google as well as the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, a local philanthropic organization focused on tackling poverty. Numerous vendors also pitched in, he noted. For example, Unite Private Networks helped lay a half-mile dark fiber cable from Wilson Middle School to a nearby cell tower owned by U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) to help broadcast the Wi-Fi signal.

Google helped the consortium develop a request for proposal, and integration vendor SmartWave Technologies eventually won the contract, Fringer said. SmartWave worked with Ruckus Wireless on the ultra-fast public Wi-Fi network in San Jose, Calif., and the company recommended the consortium work with Ruckus, which has already been a partner with the school district, Fringer added.

Both the city and the school district had bandwidth they were already paying for, Fringer noted, adding that most students now carry smartphones and other Wi-Fi-capable devices with them. If the school district's network could support thousands of students' devices during the school day, it stood to reason that it could also support thousands of more devices if it were expanded and used after the school day ended. Further, he said, there was no need to expand the bandwidth the district had.

Fringer told the World-Herald News Service the consortium eventually wants expand to other communities and school districts. However, he said doing so would require growing the consortium to include new partnerships.

For more:
- see this BLinkWiFi page
- see this World-Herald News Service article 

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