In Italy, Mesh Equals Big Money

By Eric Griffith

April 19, 2007

A rural province of northern Italy believes its investment in Cisco equipment will boost its economy in a major way over the next few years.

Cisco Systems says it's one of the largest mesh network deals made to date, big enough to call it a "mega-mesh" -- deployment has already begun on connecting 200 rural towns spread across 4,800 square kilometers (approximately 1,850 square miles) in the province of Brescia in northern Italy.

The area is rife with manufacturing as well as farming, with lower unemployment than the national average -- but geographically, it's not only dispersed but isolated.

"They say their growth was economically limited because half the places there had no broadband whatsoever," says Joel Vincent, senior manager of outdoor wireless marketing at Cisco. The provincial government, which he likens to a county government in the U.S., approached service providers to see if anyone one would bite at installing services the entire area could use, but no one bit. That is, until Brescia did a return on investment (ROI) analysis that indicated "they needed to be in the game to get the network for their citizen's benefit," Vincent says.

The cost to Brescia will be 2 million Euros to install a total of 800 to 800 APs in 79 locales (and another 2 million for the installer). Many of the towns there barely have telephone, let alone broadband. But Brescia thinks it will earn back 139 million Euros in less than six years as the wireless broadband improves the local economy, letting it go global instantly.

Cisco published its own case study on the deployment back in January. MuniWireless.com said at the time that the network would be a public/private partnership between the province and Cisco and IBM, though as of now, Cisco says the province is running the network and hasn't disclosed the system integrator's name.

The network will specifically be made up of six to ten Cisco Aironet 1500 Series mesh APs in the towns, connected back to the individual town halls, where a fiber optic backhaul will take all signals back to a central province location with Cisco controllers. "The physical connection is a mesh of meshes, if you will," says Vincent. "A single controller can run several towns." He says about 45 controllers are operating now. "It makes sense with the population density there to have fewer controllers and to distribute traffic through fiber to the switch."

Access will initially be offered to small and medium sized businesses; that group had the most interest in seeing the network deployed. "The province can wholesale the bandwidth to other providers," says Vincent. "They probably will offer basic bandwidth for the public sector to browse for free, but the main interest is in the small businesses." And the government of Brescia will see some use for themselves.

Cisco's mesh equipment is also at use in municipal networks in areas like California's Silicon Valley, and in Singapore, where Cisco is one of three vendors used by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), part of its Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure initiative (named Wireless@SG) aimed at creating a nationwide network. Mesh start-up Firetide, one of the other equipment providers for Wireless@SG, said this week that its nodes on the eastern part of the island installed by iCell Network cost $100 million to install, but have already landed 150,000 registered users since December 2006. The network is free for all comers, and isn't meant to replace broadband in the home or office.



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