Picking a Wi-Fi model
As cities add high-speed wireless broadband (Wi-Fi) networks to their communities, they are creating a variety of models for service delivery. Some are contracting with telecommunications companies, such as Overland Park, Kan.-based Embarq (formerly Sprint), to build the networks and provide service. Others, however, favor municipally owned networks. When choosing the model that will work best in each community, local leaders should consider the following points.
- Avoid the copycat approach
Every community has a unique set of circumstances guiding its priorities and preferences. Some have more infrastructure to manage than others or more economic development requirements to meet. Standard requests for proposals for Wi-Fi service do not exist.
- Find out which companies want to build Wi-Fi
Meet with each of the parties independently. They could provide information about possible services and applications that might have been overlooked.
- Gain consent about network goals
Understand the needs of each department that will be using the network for government applications; meet with interested community groups, non-profits and businesses; and invite other users to present their needs and desires to the city council.
- Get help
Planning and building an outdoor network is highly complicated and includes decisions about equipment type, output power, range, antennas, clutter data, mounting heights, interference and channel planning. It requires experience to design, build and manage.
- Do not rush
There is no need to jump into the Wi-Fi pool head first. Build a pilot network, track its usage, test applications and then use information about the test to guide the larger network design.
- Understand the technologies
While most vendors have equipment designed to transmit data at the same frequencies, each product is unique. Some equipment is better for certain performance and model requirements than others.
- Create the right business model
Most communities assume that the best model for their needs is one they do not have to pay for, but that might not be true. Some cities have paid for their networks with the money they saved over time through efficiency.
- Know thy assets
Without knowledge of what light poles exist in the community and which ones can be used to mount Wi-Fi hardware, who has access to them, who is authorized to close lanes, and other details, it is impossible to plan and budget appropriately.
- Build around applications
To provide voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service, cities will need to plan for dense infrastructure. The service also will need end-to-end quality of service from the client’s laptop (or VoIP phone) to the Internet. Many citywide Wi-Fi networks do not have sufficient service quality to support VoIP.
- Plan the deployment
Details about city assets, rights of way and lists of contractors that can install and maintain Wi-Fi equipment often are left out of proposal requests. Any information about local fiber providers, digital subscriber lines and cable coverage areas is helpful for service providers and contractors to prepare bids for Wi-Fi projects.
The author is vice president of business development for San Diego-based NetLogix.