The biggest city network picks its vendor: Houston will work with EarthLink to unwire its 600 square miles. While larger projects are underway or in planning stages already, this will be the largest city network under development anywhere in the world. Larger projects have typically been county-wide proposals that typically include much less dense coverage (or necessity for it) across large areas. Wireless Silicon Valley will span 1,500 square miles, but requires individual agreement by 41 municipalities, and will have sparser coverage over parts of its range based on population density. Houston, on the other hand, is dense as baked clay.
The plan is for the network to be complete by spring 2009. The city council could consider the contract as early as this month. In other cities, there have been large gaps between picking a vendor and finalizing a contract with the executive branch, and then months or longer to have a city council or other governing board approve the contract. Then utilities get involved in providing pole access and rights of way. In this case, the Houston Chronicle reports that the contract is already in hand, which must have been negotiated quietly (to reduce pressure and expectations) over the last several months since bidding was narrowed to two firms, one of them a local outfit put together for this project.
The article ends with two asserted statements that I take issue with.
"Networks in other cities have been criticized for spotty coverage and weak signals. Because wireless beams often can't transmit signals through buildings, customers accessing networks indoors sometimes need transmitters inside their residence or business.": The criticism is true, but the "sometimes" is not. I am hearing increasingly that the majority of residential users will need bridges to receive service unless they are adjacent to a node. The addition of 802.11n to laptops and desktops could obviate bridges in some cases; I'll be curious if that's the case.
Secondly, "Another drawback to citywide networks is that they can provide cover for online criminals, because there's no way to track their activity to specific locations." As I noted yesterday in critiquing a Washington Post article, the geographically tied nature of access point usage means that law enforcement, armed with subpoenas, will in fact be able to gather much more information about where illegal activities were conducted.