Municipal Wireless Takes Shape

Why cities are moving to municipal networks

The value of the public/private partnership is that each party can focus on what it does best. The municipality can focus on providing services without necessarily having to become a wireless network operator. The private sector can focus on leveraging best practices.

In the public/private partnership model, having government as an anchor network tenant is important to success. It provides the service provider with guaranteed revenue to justify the investment and eliminate resistance to ‘bridging the digital divide' with free or low-cost service pricing. Many RFPs have been developed assuming free or low-cost access rights are sufficient incentive for a service provider to build a network and offer desired pricing, but that requires the service provider to roll the dice on a significant capital investment, and is often a formula for unmet expectations and unhappy constituents.

By signing up as an anchor tenant, the government is ensured the ability to leverage the network for new service delivery and public safety applications.

Wireless Applications

The City of Richardson, TX, launched a public hot zone providing free broadband wireless access in the Galatyn Park area of its Telecom Corridor. The network provides business commuters and consumers with broadband capabilities for video streaming, surfing the Internet, downloading e-mail with large attachments and accessing corporate and private networks. It also provides City of Richardson personnel, including police and fire departments, with access to the city's emergency and other proprietary communications systems. The Richardson hot zone is an example of how a public/private partnership can develop a rich, multi-application, multi-use wireless network.

Improving productivity and efficiency of government operations is one key application for municipal wireless networks. Wireless mobility allows government to do more with less by extending the static work setting to a flexible, connected environment where employees can log in virtually anywhere at anytime to better serve their citizens. Police officers, health and social workers, tax assessors, building inspectors and other field personnel can input data at the point of collection to ensure greater speed and accuracy. Social workers on home visitations, for example, can upload and download information as they work with clients. By reducing the amount of time it takes to input, upload and download materials, municipal service can be significantly improved.

Public safety and homeland security are also key elements. Broadband wireless solutions can provide public safety personnel with real-time information and ready access. They may be configured to provide first responder interoperability among fire, police, ambulance and other services in an emergency situation, even if they are using different communications systems. Firefighters can download incident management reports to laptops en route. Police can download digital mug shots to help identify criminals on the spot. Health workers dealing with an outbreak can access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for up-to-date information.

From Mundane to Exotic

Utility authorities are increasingly interested in wireless networks to reduce operational expenses associated with reading meters for electricity, gas and water consumption. Using wireless networks, data accuracy can be improved and cost-per-meter-read can be lowered from an average of two dollars to 10 cents by reducing expenses for personnel, equipment and vehicles. Two-way systems can provide special reads on demand. Networked meters can also be invaluable in providing personalized services based on a given customer's consumption profile, such as offering lower rates for off-peak use.

A more exotic application is mobile TV, which may serve as a community access portal, a source of breaking news and weather, an information source for tourists and more. SmarTVideo Technologies offers a mobile TV service platform available over wireless networks that can stream video at data rates as low as 180kbps, providing more than 20 channels.