What is Grand Rapids up to?

Late last year, the city council in Grand Rapids, Mich., unanimously approved a bid from Clearwire to build a sort of muni-WiMAX network, one that will see both government users and consumers served. By the end of this year, the city expects to have a fully standardized mobile WiMAX network run by Clearwire, said Sally Wesorick, wireless project manager with Grand Rapids.

Clearwire beat out nine other proposals from companies such as AT&T/IBM, EarthLink, NeoReach and Pronto Networks. The operator will own and operate the broadband network and will include hybrid WiFi hotspot locations. Wesorick said the city was set on WiFi until it made its due diligence visits to deployments of Clearwire's pre-WiMAX systems.

"What really tipped the balance was the performance of WiMAX," she said. "We couldn't lose a signal in the WiMAX network in Greensboro, N.C. It wasn't supposed to be mobile but we were going 70 miles per hour on the highway streaming video. We connected in the conference room in the hotel without any issues. We even drove into areas of high foliage, parking ramps, hospitals with wireless noise, trying to see if it would interfere, and we didn't lose the signal." 

Clearwire was going to build out the Grand Rapids market anyway as it owns licensed spectrum there. Now it has a guaranteed revenue stream from the start as the city plans to use WiMAX to bolster its public-safety capabilities as well as enhance other government functions.

The WiMAX network will be designed to be ubiquitous, overlayed with strategically placed WiFi hotspots to cater to conventions, businesses and low-income areas. The city hasn't decided where those locations will be.

The network could very well become a proving ground for WiMAX in the municipal wireless world. I for one will be interested to see how it plays out.--Lynnette