HP Running Metro Wi-Fi Nets

By Eric Griffith

September 02, 2005

The company is going public about its many municipal wireless initiatives as the Wireless Philadelphia decision looms.

It probably caught some by surprise to see Hewlett-Packard (HP) listed as one of the two final candidates for system integrator of the Wireless Philadelphia project (the other contender is ISP EarthLink). After all, HP isn't well known for installing and running metropolitan wireless networks, right?

Maybe so in the U.S., but Enrique Barkey, HP's Worldwide Director for Civilian Agency Solutions, says that isn't the case overseas, where they have a "pretty significant investment" in networks in India, South Africa, and Taiwan. The network they help run in the city of Taipei is a relatively large-scale deployment, but he says it's not on the level of what Philadelphia will be if they win the bid there.

Until they know who wins the Pennsylvania city's contract, other smaller installations are taking place with HP as integrator, some right here in the United States. This week, they announced metro-scale wireless networks in the cities of Franklin, Tennessee (pop. 46,000) and St. Cloud, Florida.

Both networks were installed with partners Tropos Networks (for equipment) and Aptilo Networks (for access services). These companies are also slated to work on Wireless Philadelphia if HP is named—Tropos, actually, can't lose, as it is also partnered with EarthLink if they get Philly.

The Franklin network is designed for use by the city's first responders, and as such, includes use of HP iPAQ Pocket PC handhelds. The city will also be one of the first using the Tropos Mobile MetroMesh units installed in vehicles. The hardware helps extend the mesh network in the city without requiring extra static deployments on city poles or buildings.

Franklin issued a request for proposal (RFP) for building its network in the summer of 2004. At the time, they imagined using the network for residential Internet access as well. Barkey says the technology can support it -- it's up to Franklin to decide to have it activated.

The setup is pretty much the same in St. Cloud, but there, it is for residents. The deployment is an expansion of an existing hotspot—the 12-block area called Cyber Spot, which has been live since July 2004— to provide citywide broadband for use by residents and businesses. The expansion was approved back in May to cover 15 square miles of the town. HP was also involved in running Cyber Spot.

Mayor Glenn Sangiovanni of St. Cloud said in a newsletter in May, "The Cyber Spot is not about technology -- it is about community. It is a tool that will close the digital divide, providing critical connectivity and service to all of our residents. The Cyber Spot will touch every citizen's life in a very positive way, whether or not you use a computer." He also said enhancements in the network will help first responders as well.

St. Cloud is a suburb of Orlando, a city which got a lot of press earlier this year when it shut down a free hotspot in a city park. The cause, apparently, was that the city planned and issued a RFP for a citywide wireless network.

Asked whether future installations might move toward WiMax or other technologies, Barkey says, "We'll stay with Wi-Fi: that's our strategy." He says HP is working with Tropos on new installation deals outside the U.S. as well.

Philadelphia, however, has become the poster child for large-scale metropolitan Wi-Fi, and the flashpoint for arguments and legislation for and against government installations of broadband, both wired and wireless. The announcement of who will be the system integrator for the city has been delayed as the city makes a decision. Bert Williams with Tropos Networks, a company that has installed equipment in many cities, says, "There's nothing unusual or exceptional about the delays" with Wireless Philadelphia. He adds that "the municipal purchasing cycle always takes longer" than initially planned.

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