Still not convinced about the value of city-owed fiber plus muni wireless? Listen to the webinar featuring Jimmy Bagley, city CIO of Rock Hill, South Carolina, about how Rock Hill uses the city’s fiber network and the municipal wireless broadband network to become more energy efficient, help the police and fire department do their work more effectively, and provide free Wi-Fi to residents in public areas. I listened to this webinar and summarized it for you below.
The city of Rock Hill, South Carolina owns a fiber network, as well as the public utility. Rock Hill deployed a municipal wireless broadband network with multiple uses:
- wireless automated meter reading
- public safety (police and fire)
- wireless video surveillance in public parks
- free Wi-Fi access to residents in certain outdoor locations
The city uses its own fiber network and Alvarion wireless units for backhaul. To create the citywide Wi-Fi network, they use Tropos mesh equipment (100 gateways and 700 mesh nodes). Some of the wireless access points are solar-powered.
More efficient energy management through Wi-Fi
The city installed wireless meter readers that allow it to monitor water and electricity use by residents. Utility trucks have small antennas on their roofs allowing them to connect to the network so utility workers can do their job from the field.
Because the city is a public utility (water, electricity, sewer), they installed the wireless meters that could report wirelessly when there’s an outage of electricity (the meters have batteries). There are 60,000 wireless meters that report every 15 minutes. The city plans to expand wireless network to cover an extra 10 square miles.
Why wireless automated meter reading (AMR)?
- outage management: they can find out immediately where they are power outages
- monitor water filter plants
- quickly locate where there are problems at customer locations and sewage treatment facilities
Other benefits of the wireless AMR system?
- reduced the number of times utility personnel have to re-read a meter
- quickly respond to customer inquiries
- fewer billing disputes with customers
- if someone tries to manipulate or steal a meter, they find out immediately
Police and fire department personnel do their work from the field. The fire department download building plans and hazardous materials storage information on the road. Police officers check databases from the street, file reports, check up on suspicious persons.
Because the area gets a lot of hurricanes, the city needs a way to restore communications when cellular and landlines are down. The municipal wireless network provides the alternative. Moreover, the wireless nodes in police cars and fire trucks enable them to communicate even when the nodes on the electric poles are not functioning, essentially creating point-to-point communications networks (an ad hoc network).
Wi-Fi in parks
Free Wi-Fi in parks , soccer fields and tennis courts have been popular, especially with parents who attend sporting events. The city hosts a girls’ softball league that attracts hundreds of teams and the Wi-Fi network allows the spectators to upload photos to photo sharing sites, check on league scores, look up rules and statistics, etc.
Question and Answer Session
(1) How did the city finance the network?
The city issued RFQs to local banks to finance the project (wireless broadband network plus AMR). It obtained a 3-4%, five-year loan for the network, a 10-year loan for the metering system.
(2) Did the city consider using WiMAX technology?
The city looked into using WiMAX but although WiMAX looks good on paper, the city could not use the applications it wanted to implement using WiMAX. So it went with Wi-Fi instead.
(3) Did the city consider using the 4.9 GHz frequency for public safety?
They looked into it but decided to go with 2.4 GHz (Wi-Fi) because they could use the 2.4 GHz network for other applications (meter reading, Wi-Fi service to residents).
(4) How long is the battery life on the meters?
Although the manufacturer says it’s 20 years, realistically, the city expects battery life to be closer to 10 years.
(5) What were the significant unanticipated obstacles they encountered when they deployed the network?
Selling the project to the finance people on the city council.
(6) What does the city use as backhaul for the network?
City-owed fiber and Alvarion equipment.
(7) How long did it take for the city to deploy the network from concept to going live?
It took 15 to 18 months. They deployed the wireless network first, then installed the AMR system. They plan to expand the network by 10 square miles in 2009.
(8) What lessons did the city learn? What would they have done differently?
When they tried to convince the other city departments (e.g. public safety) to go along with their plan, it was difficult for those people to visualize how the network could make their work for effective. They could have done a better job helping the others see more clearly how the network benefits them.
(9) Are there plans for the city to provide Wi-Fi service to residents?
The city considered acting as a wireless ISP or getting an ISP to provide the service to residents over the network. It’s a political issue because there is already a local ISP. So the city is talking instead to the local university which has 6000 students and partnering with them to roll out Wi-Fi service to the students.
(10) Will the city provide the Wi-Fi service free of charge?
This is a political issue, as mentioned earlier. In deciding whether or not to charge for access (and what amount to charge), the city would simply want to recoup its costs, not necessarily make huge profits from providing Wi-Fi access.
To listen to the webinar and download the slides, go to:
Link to the Rock Hill case study:
Here’s another example of a city which owns a fiber network, using its municipal wireless broadband network for wireless automated meter reading, public safety and free WiFi access.