Why municipal wireless networks are NOT failing…

Posted: June 6, 2008 in evert bopp, muni-wireless, oklahoma, tropos

There has been a lot of publicity during the last 12 months on the subject of municipal wifi networks failing or not even getting of the ground. This has lead to a widespread belief that these types of networks are unworkable, overpriced and doomed to fail. Nothing is further from the truth.
The majority of networks that failed, failed because of either an in-ability to understand the technology used (in regards to performance, signal propagation, interference etc.), a lousy business model (unrealistic revenue forecasts, over reliance on third party content etc.) or a combination of both.
The lack of understanding of the technology quite often lead to the network either using not enough wireless nodes resulting in bad coverage, low throughput, high latency and other performance problems or to too many wireless nodes causing signal interference, “node hopping” etc. also resulting on performance problems. All this results in a dissatisfied user which in turn leads to bad publicity, falling revenue and investors losing confidence.
Lousy business models more often than not contained unrealistic user numbers and inflated revenue forecasts. Combine the two and you have a recipe for disaster.
Another contributor to these disasters is the fact that all these projects were put out to tender. The tender process more often than not leads to the opposite of it’s goal. Instead of the best value supplier getting the deal it is quite often only the “big boys” that get a look in and more often than not this leads to less innovative and lower value (but higher costs) hardware being deployed.
I wont type up a list of failed networks but I am sure that Google will help you out if you want to find out more.
In spite of all the bad publicity that municipal wifi networks have been receiving in the printed and digital media stories are now emerging of networks that do seem to work.
Oklahoma City has recently completed what it claims to be the world’s largest city-owned municipal WiFi mesh network. The network covers 555 square miles with 95 percent coverage in urban areas and 95 percent coverage on main roads. Now that is an awfully big network! Before you all move to Oklahoma there is one “bad point”: the city-wide network will be used only for public safety and municipal applications. It is not open to the public….
Apparently the network costs $5 million to build. For this they got 1,200 fixed WiFi nodes and 850 mobile WiFi nodes (in police cars and fire trucks) provided by Tropos Networks. Now that is an awful lot of money And while Tropos’ products are certainly very good I am certain that this could have been completed on a lower budget.
I do however find it very interesting that they have deployed mobile nodes. This certainly makes sense but I do not think that this has ever been deployed on this scale.

Their decision to not make access to this network available for the public follows an opinion that I have had for some time; that “joe public” does not need coverage blanket wifi coverage. What he/she needs though is wifi access in areas where it is convenient to use. A city can provide wifi access in parks, libraries, public transport hubs in pedestrian areas etc. Areas with high traffic flow and little or no static users do not need wifi coverage. So you can create a municipal wifi network with blanket coverage that will only be used for public safety and municipal applications and use this network as a backbone to creating certain public wifi zones. You can even let these wifi zones be operated by private companies. The availability of power-points to recharge a “tired” laptop in these areas would also be a welcome plus…


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