FEATURE: Making the digital city a reality

Making the digital city a reality: WiFi and so much more

From Philadelphia to Anaheim, from San Francisco to Rome, and other cities across the globe, local governments are investigating the value that widespread wireless Internet access can bring to areas such as public safety, commerce and information sharing.

While the benefits of WiFi might be clear, the process of implementing such networks is not as straightforward. Therefore, it is imperative for stakeholders to evaluate the technological, economic, ownership and maintenance factors that are essential to making an educated decision on whether wireless broadband is right for their municipality.

1. Establish Community requirements and goals 
Municipalities should first identify where the needs exist, the parameters of the project, and the desired outcomes. Does the local police department need connectivity to ensure the safety of citizens? Do schools and community centers need broadband access to ensure that administrative staff, teachers and students have access to the latest resources? Are citizens seeking government intervention to resolve issues with current data service providers?

2. Consider all available technologies
With all of the advancements in wireless broadband technologies, there now are a myriad of choices to evaluate when considering a municipal wireless broadband solution. There are many technologies that, working together, can provide an optimum network configuration and accommodate future growth. Because each community is unique, it is important to define the needs of the municipality in order to select the proper wireless broadband solution- whether it's unlicensed WiFi access, licensed public-safety access, proprietary access or any combination thereof.

WiFi is a common choice for public access applications. WiFi operates within the unlicensed radio spectrum (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz) and because it's unlicensed, there is no charge to the operator to run within these bands. However, as a result, these frequencies can be susceptible to overcrowding and/or transmission interference. These issues can be mitigated with different technical configurations and depending upon the type of access desired, the potential for interference or overcrowding may not be a concern.

For mission critical applications, where security and dedicated channels are of paramount importance, municipalities often will select solutions that are based on proprietary systems and/or in licensed frequency bands. Today, there are even multi-radio broadband mesh solutions to meet the needs for public access and secure, mission critical connectivity in one system. These systems provide both secure and dedicated access in the licensed 4.9 GHz public safety band, as well as unlicensed public access (2.4 GHz) in a single package to enable a robust wireless network capable of offering reliable, secure and cost-effective communication options to the entire community.

To further safeguard investments in broadband, it's also wise to anticipate the future needs of communities. For instance, WiMAX products will provide cost-effective broadband wireless access, and with 802.16e WiMAX solutions, offer both fixed and mobile access. WiMAX will provide a framework with the longevity, interoperability and flexibility necessary to deliver next-generation applications and can serve as a complementary solution to currently available wireless broadband technologies, such as cellular, WiFi and mesh. 

3. Gain consensus on who owns, operates and manages the network
There are different models communities can use to implement a municipal wireless broadband network. These include four major deployment model alternatives:

  • Municipal Owned/ Private Use. The network functions as an extension of the municipality's network; it is installed and operated by an integrator.
  • Municipal Owned/Mixed Use. The municipality acts as an ISP (Internet Service Provider) for public access. The network is installed and operated either by the municipality or an integrator.
  • Utility Partnership. The network is owned by the municipality and operated by the service provider, which leases capacity from the municipality.
  • Service Provider Owned and Operated. Through a franchise agreement, the service provider delivers low cost or no cost capacity for municipal public services. The network supports multiple ISPs in a wholesale model that can become a significant revenue generator for the municipality.

4. Put power into your broadband solution from the start
Utility companies own much of the infrastructure (light poles and electrical outlets) where wireless broadband access points would be attached. To obtain universal support and ease installation processes, local government officials and network providers should engage with the utility companies at the onset of planning to ensure they have the appropriate permissions.

5. Bring advantages to as many hands as possible
To leverage the investments in wireless broadband, municipalities will want to ensure the network they provide can be used by as many people as possible. Providing the right combination of tools and technology can literally help a municipality pay for a network over time through enhanced service efficiencies, improved employee productivity, and overall faster response.

In many cases, when the service provider owns the network, municipalities are requiring that they partner to cost effectively wholesale bandwidth to other service providers helping ensure multiple competitive offerings are available to the consumer even though only a single network is installed in the city.  Municipalities are expecting that such a wholesale opportunity will help drive down cost to the consumer and increase broadband access penetration in their community. 

Powerful advantages like these-if anticipated and planned for across a variety of community touch-points-can support the case for municipalities to invest in wireless broadband networks.

Tom Hulsebosch is senior director of marketing with Motorola Canopy.