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City of San Jose Launches Free Wi-Fi Network

Municipalities deploy wireless to draw businesses, bridge the digital divide.

The city of San Jose, Calif., has replaced its aging Wi-Fi network with an outdoor wireless mesh network that provides fast, reliable connectivity in the downtown core.

"San Jose serves as both home and the workplace for thousands of people," says city CIO Vijay Sammeta. "It was important to the city to provide Wi-Fi free of charge to all who come to the downtown to work, study, enjoy our many activities and patronize downtown businesses."

New and Improved

The city purchased its previous Wi-Fi network after the municipal wireless carrier that installed it went bankrupt. "The network had only two backhaul locations and therefore didn't provide the ­throughput one could get from the average LTE smartphone these days," Sammeta says.

Partnering with a wireless integrator and Ruckus Wireless for Wi-Fi hardware, the city invested about $94,000 to build a new outdoor 802.11n mesh network. Most of the 40 APs are placed on light poles, while an additional 15 provide point-to-­multipoint bandwidth injection.

As the Wi-Fi network moves into production this winter, IT leaders expect to achieve significant speeds because of the 2-to-1 ratio of mesh to wireless and fiber gateway backhaul connections. "As 802.11ac becomes more prevalent, you will see the network expand and evolve," Sammeta says.

In addition to public Wi-Fi, the city will use the network to connect parking meters, parking guidance signs and eventually support a plethora of other municipal applications.

A Different Approach

While failed municipal wireless projects are the story of the past decade, today's public Wi-Fi deployments take a more narrow focus. "Unlike the previous boom and bust of the muni Wi-Fi market, we are focused on population centers where it can have the greatest impact as opposed to blanketing the entire city," says Sammeta.

Craig Settles, an independent broadband analyst, agrees with San Jose's approach. "Municipal wireless as a concept never really died, but there's a reluctance to get in front of anything other than limited-reach networks," he says.

Voices

Rachel Hoat

"New York City provides free Wi-Fi access in a wide range of public spaces, including every library branch and more than 40 parks across the five boroughs."

—Rachel Haot, Chief Digital Officer, New York City

 

Jason Clay

"We are most proud of the fact that we installed and maintain the system ourselves. We now have more than 100 access points in the field with a very minimal investment."

—Jason Clay, IS Director, City of Newton, N.C.

 

Kevin Kelley

"Old Brooklyn Connected provides every resident, school and business free access to all of the information, knowledge and opportunity that broadband Internet offers."

—Kevin Kelley, City Council Member, Cleveland

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Jan 17 2013 Spice IT

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