Who would have thought a project spanning 1,500 sq mi and dozens of cities, a few counties, and other entities could ever possibly go wrong? Palo Alto Daily News reports at that Metro Connect--a consortium of giants Cisco and IBM, Wi-Fi specialist Azulstar, and non-profit Seakay--are months behind schedule. On the other hand, I thought their schedule was awfully ambitious, so I'm not surprised. The project is attempting to build something larger, with more purposes, and more stakeholders than has ever been achieved for any wireless project. The only comparable efforts are private-only deployments by cell operators which are build on a permit-by-permit or real estate-deal-by-deal basis once licenses are obtained for frequencies.
The two pilot square miles in San Carlos and Palo Alto were announced months ago, but aren't ready; summer is now targeted. The model contract that each of the cities and counties involved could evaluate isn't complete either; it was originally targeted for January 2007. The conflict there appears to be among members of Metro Connect rather than between municipal entities and Metro Connect. Update: TechWeb reports that Azulstar recently changed its CEO and senior management.
The network is ambitious. Project leader Seth Fearay is quoted noting, "What we're looking at is a much more complex network that will offer a wide variety of services, from automated gas- and water-meter readers, to webcams for public safety, to vehicles being able to connect to real-time traffic information." Which is ambitious, to say the least.
But it's important to note that Cisco and IBM have a lot at stake here: home turf, big public commitment, and their involvement in the Joint Venture Silicon Valley group that worked to make the proposal happen in the first place. They already estimated spending $50m to $100m, so why not get it right? Update: TechWeb quotes the project's leader saying $100m to $150m! When did that happen?
Craig Settles, who consults on and writes about how to put together the right combination of factors in writing municipal network proposals and answering those proposals, said via email, "Might it not make sense to focus on simplicity in regards to what they want to achieve with this network?...Metro Connect hopes to create a network to satisfy what has to be a witches brew of needs, wants, desires and political maneuverings. Sounds like a lot of incredible heartburn in the making." He suggests a few killer apps that justify the network to start with, with complexity coming later. "Metro Connect ought to consider finding two, maybe three applications that most of the cities and counties involved can agree on," he wrote.