Santa Clara finding smart grids and public Wi-Fi mix quite nicely

The city of Santa Clara, Calif., has achieved a municipal Wi-Fi hit, as the free public Wi-Fi service riding on smart grid technology installed by the city's municipal electric utility is regularly exceeding 6,000 active users during peak periods.

SVP Wi-Fi antenna

(Source: SVP)

Silicon Valley Power (SVP) rolled out the Wi-Fi service in March, piggybacking the public Wi-Fi channel onto its SVP MeterConnect wireless network, which is expected to also carry utility data to the city over advanced utility meters slated for installation next year. SVP said public adoption of the Wi-Fi service has exceeded expectations.

"The system is getting over a thousand more users per day than we expected during peak periods," said John Roukema, director of SVP, adding that weekend user traffic remains high at 5,000 logins a day.

The system features speeds up to 2 Mbps, which SVP said is sufficient for normal connectivity that does not entail large amounts of data transfer, such as video and gaming. The outdoor Wi-Fi system relies upon Wi-Fi repeaters mounted on streetlights within Santa Clara's 19 square miles.

SVP is conducting an evaluation process, which will cover customer satisfaction and heat mapping to indicate areas of strong and weak coverage, Larry Owens, SVP manager of customer services and communications, told Dailywireless. The evaluation process is targeted for completion by year's end, and an enhancement plan based on it is slated for development by spring 2014.

Owens said Santa Clara has attracted visits from representatives of other utilities from around the globe who are interested in SVP's combination metering and public Wi-Fi system.

"The most difficult thing confronting us is the smart phone users who expect that the outdoor Wi-Fi experience will equal their indoor experience with in-home wireless routers. Users with laptops or repeaters, on the other hand, are reporting a very good experience," he added.

Santa Clara Wi-Fi usage

Free muni Wi-Fi usage in Santa Clara quickly surpassed forecasts. (Source: SVP)

The annual cost to run the public Wi-Fi service is estimated at $200,000, but SVP hopes to save money once wireless metering is fully deployed.

SVP's Wi-Fi network is riding on the legacy of MetroFi, the bankrupt firm that initially installed public Wi-Fi in Santa Clara during 2004. In 2008, SVP bought MetroFi's transmitters and began toying around with the idea of using it for meter reading, ultimately opting to add public Wi-Fi to the mix as well. Those early efforts set the stage for deployment of the current public Wi-Fi network, which uses ABB Tropos equipment.

For more:
- see this Silicon Valley Power release
- see this Dailywireless article

Related articles:
Los Angeles councilman pushes for free citywide Wi-Fi
Google ponies up $600,000 for free Wi-Fi in San Francisco
Google continues shotgun public Wi-Fi initiatives
Santa Clara is first to offer free Wi-Fi via smart utility meters
Santa Clara electric utility pioneers meter reading program via WiFi

Article updated Nov. 18, 2013, to include ABB Tropos' role in the deployment.