Friday, March 16, 2007

Municipal-wide WiFi – an Update

In my last post on municipal-wide Wifi, several cities such as Anaheim, Arlington, Long Beach, and others were starting to rollout their Wifi services. The process continues to accelerate as city managers understand the benefits of wireless networking throughout the city. Public safety comes in near the top of the list. Based on this blog report it appears public safety services is easier to gain approval than others. Through high performance mesh networks such as Firetide’s system video surveillance can be implemented at a lower cost.

For those new to wireless mesh networks here’s a site that describes the technology behind it. Unlike a wireless network found in the nearby coffee shop which uses a single wireless router communicating with endpoints such as laptops and PDAs, a municipal-wide deployment uses a mesh network in which each router node connected to the internet can communicate with at least two other nodes. This creates a “cloud” of wireless coverage that can allow a user to tap into the network. Another slant on it comes from this post which brings optic fiber into the mix and describes how wireless mesh networks combined with fiber optic links can optimize the overall performance of the system.

In looking at the list of the 10 most connected cities, the US doesn’t even show up until position 7 and that is a combination of several cities. Asia dominates the list with Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, and Singapore leading the pack followed by Sweden.

Several social forces are at play in the rollout of municipal wireless networks. The Institute for the Future lists three forces here. They include the

1. Guaranteeing citizens’ role as content providers
2. Finding a balance for location privacy
3. Enabling the Internet of Things

They fear that cities rolling out the network will give too much bandwidth to the advertisers and not enough to the users who can provide content (think Craigslist). The post goes on to emphasize that while today’s wireless network is primarily used on laptops and PDAs, the network of the future will connect things such as wireless sensor network nodes (reading temperatures, monitoring environmental factors, and more. They call this the “Enabling the Internet of Things.”

As we move forward with deploying wireless sensor network systems for industrial, safety, and other uses, we may want to monitor the decisions by municipal groups who are deploying these networks.

A rich resource of information on the topic can be found at Muniwireless.com.

For virtual instrumentation, this is an interesting area to watch as the investment into equipment grows and networks become commonplace. Virtual instrumentation leverages commercial off-the-shelf technologies. Mesh network and its implementation in municipal-wide deployments provide a promising foundation upon which virtual instrumentation solutions could run.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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