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Santa Clara electrical utility buys MetroFi's SkyPilot Wi-Fi nodes: The Silicon Valley Power (SVP) Meter Connect program will use the wireless backbone for automatic meter infrastructure (AMI) as part of a program to switch to smart meters and provide demand-based pricing and response for customers. They'll start with a pilot with a couple thousand smart meters, and eventually replace 45,000 residential and 6,000 business meters. Meters and the back-end systems are out for bid.
The current bill for providing American infrastructure rebuilding includes $4.5b in smart-grid spending, and utilities will be vying for hunks of this to pay or subsidize infrastructure updates. The money is well spent. The smarter the grid, the less power people and businesses use at peak times (through higher prices for peak power or incentives for conservation), and the less idle off-peak power plants have to be in place.
The company operating Wi-Fi in some New York parks is closing down: Eagle-eyed correspondent Klaus Ernst noted that the Wi-Fi in the parks project has shut down. Wi-Fi Salon, the concessionaire for most of the major parks, posted a message about the current economic conditions, but the note is undated.
I was always dubious about Wi-Fi Salon due to the surreal technical explanations made by its founder, its small size and lack of real-world experience, and the extensive delays in every step of the project. Ultimately, something closer to kiosks than coverage were erected, and I've never seen any usage numbers.
Community Wi-Fi organizers in New York City had a variety of other ideas about how to offer free Wi-Fi, but parks had its own agenda. Let's see if they approach this differently this time around.
Update: Marshall Brown, Wi-Fi Salon's founder, takes issue with my characterization of his operations. No one--especially me--ever claimed that building outdoor networks was easy. From all that's happened in the last few years, it's clear that building large, sustainable, free (sponsored or otherwise) networks requires many stakeholders, a diverse revenue stream, and real purposes for a network beyond public access.
Crain's reports on the issue: Possibly prompted by my post (or by Brown's outrage), Crain's New York Business writes about the shut down and Brown's new project, which has put Wi-Fi into Union Square. Brown's new venture, Wired Towns, is talking to business improvement districts about outdoor Wi-Fi across New York City.
Yet another update: Sewell Chan of the New York Times provides more details about the timeline involved.
Oklahoma City, home to several hundred sq mi of municipal Wi-Fi, finds another application: Okla. City is working on a $4m plan to reduce the costs and inflexibility of their traffic-light management system. A local news station quotes the city's IT director saying that such a move could cut commuter time on average by 5 percent and stops by 8 percent, as well as allowing dynamic changes for special events. Many cities use outdated and bizarre control channel systems that long predate modern networking; Oklahoma City has none in place at all right now.
I'm channeling one Mr Craig Settles here, but if you have applications for a network before it's built, then you have a purpose to build it, and then more applications emerge that make sense once it's built. Paying $4m to allow remote signal control will likely save residents, commuters, and businesses far more in increasing productivity and reducing gas use, if the numbers the IT director holds up. Beyond that, it likely makes the efficiency of managing intersections far far higher, reducing delays and expense from signals that stop working.
On the other hand, predictions about changes in travel time to improvements in congestion tend to not come true, according to the book Traffic. If you make roads easier to travel, people travel those roads more.
Harvard Square Business Association uses Meraki Solar to extend network: The eagles come home to roost. Meraki was founded by nearby MIT graduate students. The Industry Standard says Harvard Square is officially the first customer for the solar devices. Meraki's founder told me a few weeks ago that in beta testing, they found that solar devices were just as important in the developed world for difficult-to-reach locations: Places where bringing power was so expensive (and involved a recurring bill, in some cases) that solar was more sensible even with the $850 to $1,500 price tag for Meraki Solar.
If you figure that such a device might only burn $50 in power a year, but that bringing power to a rooftop could cost $500 to $2,000, if you're even allowed to hire someone to wire the power correctly), the solar option is perfectly sensible.
A few days ago, I questioned the Wall Street Journal's statement about 28,000 daily unique users on Philadelphia's network: The Phila. network, operated by NAC, covers more than 75 sq mi of the city, but the Journal said that the areas available for free usage were only the parks. I couldn't reconcile how 28,000 unique people (or devices) were using the network in public areas (parks?) each day.
Turns out the Journal was conflating "public areas" with public access. The Wi-Fi service is available throughout the city, in the same way it was under EarthLink's operation, which means that many people are using it from their homes or businesses. Still, it's a relatively remarkable number.
The folks behind the network said that weekdays see 25,000 to 28,000 unique users based on MAC addresses, which are reasonably good gauges for unique users. Someone with a laptop and an iPhone would be counted twice, of course, but the overall contraction from unique devices to people is probably less than 10 percent. Monthly uniques by MAC are 125,000 (November).
One of the principals behind the current network's owner also noted that 40 percent of network use is from Apple gear, including the iPhone, iPod touch, and computers; PC systems represent 30 percent.
I keep trying to pin down which network has the most usage in the world, and Philadelphia is the likely winner, with San Francisco's Meraki network as No. 2, and Minneapolis (with a claimed 10,000+ subscribers) at No. 3.
First, it was the poles; then the performance; then the lawsuit: Now, the settlement. The city of St. Louis Park, Minn., wanted to build a city-owned Wi-Fi network that would cope with the problems of its dense canopy. They chose a vendor, unfortunately, that had never built a network using the technology that the vendor chose to use.
The network required 16-foot tall poles that were originally rather unsightly. And 400 poles would be needed city wide. Citizens were revolted and did revolt; a new design for the poles reduced their ugliness, one can see from photos, but the network--solar powered to boot--never achieved the performance required under the contract, the city said.
Last December, the city moved to terminate its contract and later filed a lawsuit. The settlement signed by Arinc and approved by the city a few days ago calls from Arinc to pay $1m, and grant ownership of about 8 miles of fiber run by Arinc along with related gear. The city will be responsible for the estimated $150,000 cost to remove the equipment from poles and take the poles down, but the Wi-Fi nodes and solar panels go back to Arinc. (Which will sell them on eBay, most likely.)
Arinc claimed at various times that it had performed the tasks for which it was contracted, and that interference was beyond its control. Given that there's an incredibly successful network nearby in Minneapolis that appears to have suffered from few or none of the problems in St. Louis Park, it's hard to credit that. (Minneapolis paid nothing for the network, but is paying $1.25m a year for 10 years for services.)
St. Louis Park is thus left without a network, with at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in hard costs and staff time that lacks recompense (as the settlement covers only expenses after the network started to be built), and with a bunch of fiber they say they have no particular plan for.
Go? No: Go Networks, a metro-scale Wi-Fi equipment maker acquired in Jan. 2007 by NextWave, is being shut down. Go announced their technology on 3-April-2006 at the height of interest in the municipal Wi-Fi market, at which point they thought their beamforming, MIMO gear would take hold. They believed they could provide superior coverage at far lower cost, especially when factoring in the need for fewer utility poles. As far as I can tell, they never had a huge win, and then the easy market evaporated.
It's amazing to me that the four independent metro-scale firms have survived this long; all are privately held, and so we know only what's publicly announced about their well being. BelAir has scored the Minneapolis and Cablevision networks, and thus perhaps has its future assured. Tropos appears to have developed alternative markets. For Strix and SkyPilot, the future must be uncertain, although I must stress that I have no particular knowledge of either companies' financial or sales situation. SkyPilot's only big win was with MetroFi, which is now gone missing; Strix has some international deployments that are perhaps what drives the firm, but domestically they were paired with now-dead Kite.
Along those lines, Riverside's network deployment has stalled, but is resuming buildout: AT&T had partnered with MetroFi to build Riverside, Calif.'s metro-scale network, and it's taken a while to build. The article doesn't mention MetroFi, but says "the original contractor has gone outt of business," and AT&T has hired a new firm. The network should be largely complete by the end of 2008. AT&T said that they had 17,600 unique sessions (not users) in August.
Illinois bus system adds Wi-Fi on express buses: The Madison Country Transit system put Internet service on 40 express buses. Service is free, but filtered.
Trapeze Networks usually announces enterprise products and deployments, but not so with today's Chinese network rollout: Partnered with Commnet in China, the two firms will deploy 3,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in Hangzhou, a city of 6.5m. But rather than focus on a ubiuqitous network, it's clear from what's not stated in the press release that this is an efficient deployment of service where it's needed.
The city has six urban districts that total 260 sq mi and nearly 2m people' 3,000 nodes couldn't possibly offer total coverage even if just those areas (rather than "eight metropolitan districts") were what was to be covered. But that's not really what's needed.
The network will be built over the next 15 months.
Those dang poles add $1m to Wi-Fi network expense: US Internet Wireless couldn't install service in a large remaining area of Minneapolis because the decorative utility poles in the upscale neighborhoods--paid through homeowner assessments--lack the strength to hold the Wi-Fi nodes. Minneapolis has opted to pick up the tab for replacing the 145 poles and putting in temporary wood poles to complete the network--a cool $1m. While unfortunate for the overall city cost savings, it doesn't seem out of line for which entity has the responsibility.
Without replacing these poles, the city would be unable to use the municipal services from which it still plans to save $3.5m over the 10-year contract life, and thus it would be pennywise and pound foolish to leave the status quo.
Despite the failed effort to build city-wide Wi-Fi in San Francisco, Gavin Newsom can still borrow credit: Meraki's SF Free the Net effort, which has them paying a hunk of the cost of building a grassroots Wi-Fi network across swaths of the city, continues to be coattailed (with the company's full encouragement) by Mayor Newsom.
Today's announcement sees Meraki nicely footing the bill for extending their service into neighborhood affordable housing, municipal-speak for low-income housing that's subsidized typically through government efforts and funds. Meraki will install networks at 12 buildings in the Tenderloin, known as San Francisco's roughest neighborhood, now going on many decades with that designation.
Meraki claims a "presence" in 42 of 52 major neighborhoods in the city, although their map tells a very different story about how usage is clustered in areas in which it would make perfect sense that usage was seen.
Meraki has engaged in a very interesting public project, and likes the imprimatur of San Francisco, even as they don't really need the city; the city, in contrast, needs them (or Newsom particularly) to salvage something from years of planning that blew up in their faces.
Anyway, SF's EarthLink network would never have been built; or, having been underway, would never have been completed.
Forgive my snark tone and cynicism: Meraki has put a lot of resources into building a publicly accessible network across a hunk of SF that wouldn't otherwise exist.
I'm not sure why this article was written, as there appears to be nothing particularly newsworthy in it: The News.com reporter Marguerite Reardon has covered muni-Fi for as long as I have, and after reading this in-depth piece, I'm left wondering whether it was assigned far too early, and she was meeting an editorial desk requirement instead of feeling like the story was ready to "print." The article looks at Network Acquisition Corp. (NAC), the allegedly interim name for the group that's taken over Phila-Fi.
One source at the Knight Center for Digital Excellence notes, "The new network owners are supposed to have a much more sustainable business model." Supposed to. Later, "Network Acquisition Company, which acquired the network, hasn't talked publicly about the details of its new plan, but it has hinted that its strategy will differ from EarthLink's." Hasn't talked publicly. Then, "[NAC and Tropos] spokespeople said the companies would talk more about the network later this month when details of the new business plan are ready." Huh.
Reardon explains digital divide issues and looks into what Wireless Philadelphia has been up to, although doesn't note that delays in EarthLink's deployment and other factors have led to just a few hundred individuals that have been assisted by the non-profit; numbers may have changed, but that was as of a few months ago. Still, Wireless Philadelphia has apparently diversified its funding sources--Reardon cites 30 now.
I think we're still coming off the doldrums of August.
The Star Tribune writes that the Minneapolis USI Wireless network has signed up over 10,000 users: Steve Alexander, who has closely covered the network for his paper, writes that the network operator told him they're beyond break even. It's a fascinating result; the city remains unique for its size in having a functioning, privately operated Wi-Fi network. Alexander shares several comments from readers about the service, mostly but not entirely negative, which makes sense: people are emailing him when they have problems.
The Oregonian notes that the city may still pick up tab for removing MetroFi's base station: Although MetroFi posted a $30,000 bond against removal of its antennas, the cost could be $90,000 if the company winds up with insufficient assets to roll down the network. The city could pare that figure by using its own crews for removing nodes from traffic signals, but that would still leave $36,000 on the table. The paper notes that MetroFi tried to sell some nodes on eBay, but I don't believe they had takers.
Cablevision says it's already spent $20m towards its plan to build out Wi-Fi across its operating territory: The cable firm has $300m budgeted to put Wi-Fi in place for its higher-tier subscribers at no cost across Long Islands and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as New York City and Westchester County. Cablevision thinks their network will be good enough to replace cell phones across their coverage, which ties in with the quadruple play many cable operators are aiming for: data, voice, video, and mobile.
Springfield, Mich., puts in its first antennas for a city-wide network: The network is being built with a $750,000 grant from a state development corporation to extend access and improve the business climate. Access will cost $10 per month for residents after an initial free period while the service powers up.
The last lingering city in the once-ambitious EarthLink municipal efforts shuts down: Forgot about Anaheim, Calif.'s EarthLink Wi-Fi network? Me, too. It was once the showcase, with a several sq mi buildout, the largest in the EarthLink system, and a place where VoIP over Wi-Fi was in heavy testing. The network's equipment will be pulled from poles no later than Sept. 30, the Orange County Register reports.
Long Island proposal still mired: The plan to put Wi-Fi up across two Long Island counties has seemed doomed to me from the start. The company that won the bid was untested, and its other in-deployment or in-proposal networks are off the table. Expertise aside, it needs tens of millions to build such a network, and financing for company-funded metro-scale projects is not available. The counties involved have pledged no purchases of services. And, perhaps the final stroke, the local utility says that E-Path doesn't meet the test of being a telecom and paying less than $10 per year for pole placement, but instead must pay the all-comer rate of $50 per year.
This is a critical distinction. Telecoms are covered under the Telecom Act of 1996 that requires non-discriminatory access to utility poles to avoid incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) and utilities from being gatekeepers that prevent competitive service from emerging. There are a series of tests in the law and local qualifications, too, that allow a firm to be a registered telecom. An FCC decision last year ruled that companies that mix telecom and unregulated information services on the same wires aren't disqualified from getting the Telecom Act deal, however.
But E-Path seems to meet none of the criteria except their desire to pay $10 instead of $50 per year per pole. Utility poles have held up many other municipal networks. We're not hearing more about them these days because such networks are now being built on a smaller scale for different purposes, where the number of nodes and their placement is rather different than networks built with the intent of providing indoor coverage.
Cablevision, by the way, qualifies as a telecom, this article states, which helps them in placing nodes for their planned $300m network across their coverage territory. They can also mount nodes in-line with their cable lines, using power from their cable plant on the lines already.
E-Path appears to have a variety of communication problems as well. The article notes, "Tortoretti said his Washington, D.C., attorneys disagree with LIPA's interpretation. But the attorney Tortoretti said represents E-Path, Charles Rohe, said he couldn't speak about the company or the dispute."
Later, E-Path's "chief executive said he hopes the county will help with his LIPA dispute." But an aide to the Suffolk County executive said, "That's not really our issue. That's out of our control."
Correspondent Craig Plunkett, quoted near the end, points out that if the counties were to change their minds and want to buy services on the network, the proposal would have to be rebid (appears as the sound-alike "rebuild" by accident in the online article at this moment).
Santa Clara takes over MetroFi network for meter reading: The city might also expand free public access. Advertisements will be removed as well as logins. This action is a far cry from the last time a firm said they were withdrawing from a wireless business that had spread nodes all over Santa Clara (that would be Metricom's Ricochet network). With Ricochet, users needed proprietary modems; with Wi-Fi, the city can turn the network to serve several purposes without worrying about public access adapters.
I've been citing Lompoc, Calif., as a poster child of what can go wrong in municipal Wi-Fi for a few years: But I apparently have to change my tune. Lompoc, near Santa Barbara, had unreasonable expectations, if you read their first and second RFPs. The first provider built a network that Lompoc found unacceptable and they bid it out for a second network to be built (some of these details are murky and some under dispute).
What's been clear is that after spending more than $3m, the city couldn't acquire more than a few hundred regular subscribers, about 10 percent of the point they'd need to pay expenses and pay down capital outlay. But it turns out that the backend was as important as their network deployment, IDG News Service reports.
The latest city network administrator brought in Aptilo Networks for backend authentication and session processing, opened the network to 15-minute free trials, and started accepted ad hoc payment. The new network guru also let outsourced contracts expire and brought customer support and other services back in house to reduce expenses and improve the feedback loop. He discovered their existing authentication system was licensed for 500 users, so that might have explained their failure to grow, too.
The city now has 1,000 regular users at all levels, from pay-as-you-go to monthly household subscriptions. They've revised breakeven down to 2,000 subscribers, and say they are breakeven for expenses.
The other problem Lompoc had, by the way, is that the cable and telephone companies didn't sit still. I exaggerate, but when Lomopoc was planning its network, it had very poor coverage for its 42,000 residents for DSL and cable modem service. When the Wi-Fi network was announced, the incumbents started pulling copper, coax, and fiber, and dramatically improved network coverage. The $3m wasn't entirely ill spent so far: it was a kind of reverse incentive to the private companies to get their act together.
A fascinating large-scale test in San Francisco intends to reduce wasted miles in finding parking spots: The City by the Bay is installing wireless sensors at 6,000 of its 24,000 parking spots which will be tied into live updates on street signage and maps accessible via mobile devices (and, ostensibly, laptops). Eventually, payment will be added, too.
The city would like to avoid congestion pricing and tolls to manage traffic better. The system would allow parking pricing and durations to change dynamically. San Francisco is investing nearly $100m in an overall congestion reducing program, SFpark. This article cites an expert who estimates 30 percent of core business district traffic is from folks searching for a parking spot.
An embedded device with a 5-to-10-year battery lifespan relies information about parking availability and traffic speed through a mesh network.
It's unfortunate that such applications weren't in place when San Francisco was thinking about Wi-Fi public access. The intelligent integration of necessary city services that require a wireless backhaul with a public access Wi-Fi network could be a viable model. But early RFPs were focused entirely on public access and SF's contract with EarthLink excluded any linkage between the public Wi-Fi network and any municipal business.
The Palo Alto Weekly exhaustively examines its city's and Silicon Valley's state of public Wi-Fi: The paper looks at the failures of various networks around the valley, the current state of Wi-Fi plans, and how a non-profit, WiFi101, is building (with a grant) a new effort that could be a model for how to offer free service for those without Internet access.
The Weekly also mentions Palo Alto considering fiber to the home, which the city incorrectly calls "Fiber to the Premise" (not "premises") in their request for proposal. Palo Alto installed an early city-owned fiber ring in the mid-1990s. That 40-mi. ring cost just $1.9m (in 1996 dollars) to build. The new effort would be entirely funded by partners, who would receive certain assets and contracts to anchor the project.
I'm going for the sensational in the headline, but it's part of the story's intro, too: The New York Times reports on some early uses of the city's $500m wireless network designed for non-public uses. The network uses UMTS over licensed spectrum specifically devoted the city's municipal and public safety purposes.
One of the projects leaders uses terms that should warm every New Yorker's heart, if he or she knew what they meant. IT head Paul Cosgrave says the system will overcome silos, an often disparaging term for the separation of resources across groups that can only expensively be overcome. It's the government and business equivalent of the academic problem of a lack of cross-discipline focus.
One of the first applications allows sanitation workforce managers a frighteningly precise amount of knowledge about routes, activities, and behavior of trucks in their territory. Let's hope that's not misused! Efficiency is one thing; micro-management is another.
Another project is testing wireless water-meter reading. The city hopes to spend $90 per meter for the upgrade and shed part of a $12.2m contract with Con Edison that covers 850,000 units. What should be useful about this is that problems can be detected by monitoring waterflow patterns, which in turn allows the often huge problems that take months to notice (occurring underground or in basements where rivers formerly flowed) to be stopped before they turn into multi-million-dollar problems for property owners or the city. Anytime anything happens in Manhattan, it's a multi-million dollar problem.