Wireless Silicon Valley Set to Move Ahead

By Jeff Goldman

June 25, 2008

Two years after its initial RFP, the trial deployment in San Carlos, CA this week received city approval to begin moving forward. If completed, the project will cover 1,500 square miles with wireless.

Two years after its initial RFP, the trial deployment in San Carlos, CA this week received city approval to begin moving forward. If completed, the project will cover 1,500 square miles with wireless.


Wireless Silicon Valley, a project aiming to cover 1,500 square miles of California’s Silicon Valley with wireless access, has faced repeated delays since it issued its initial request for proposal back in April of 2006. But on Monday of this week, the city council of San Carlos unanimously approved the encroachment permits required for a trial deployment (the first actual deployment for the project thus far) to cover one square mile of downtown San Carlos.

In February, Covad announced that it would be joining the project in order to build out the trial network in San Carlos—and Brian Moura, co-chair of Wireless Silicon Valley and assistant city manager for the City of San Carlos, says the city was chosen for the trial partially because it’s already in Covad’s territory.

Covad Wireless is actually the Internet supplier for the City of San Carlos… and they have some business customers in San Carlos as well,” he says.

According to Seth Fearey, project manager for Wireless Silicon Valley, a trial deployment like the one in San Carlos is key to getting nearby cities involved.

“The cities are very interested, but they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to sign up for these services unless we’ve seen them run, and in our environment—we don’t want to go down to Tempe or over to Philadelphia—we want to see it running here, so we can bring in our police cars, our public works people, and try it out and have confidence that we’re going to get the quality of service that we need,” he says.

Additional permits

Still, the approval given by the San Carlos City Council on Monday is only the beginning of the permitting process required for the trial deployment.

“One of the issues that we have is that El Camino Real, which runs the length of the peninsula, is actually a state highway—and you have to go to Caltrans to get permission to put access points on state highways,” Fearey says. And that’s not all.

“Then there’s a school, which is another separate jurisdiction,” Fearey says. “And it happens that the school has some prime territory for these things to complete the coverage, so that has to go through a different process. There’s been one little thing like that after another.”

In the meantime, Fearey says Covad has set up a small-scale duplicate of the network on their own campus to test the Cisco equipment they’re planning to use.

“They’ve been working at getting everything ready to rock and roll,” he says. “The next step is getting the permits issued, and then they can start installing.”

And Moura says the city’s approval should really enable the majority of the trial deployment to begin.

“Covad may deploy the first wave of the equipment in advance of getting the state signoff… just to get things rolling,” he says. “And then when the state signs off on the state highway, they can put up that one too—and they’ll be in business.”

While the trial was originally intended to last three months, Moura says the city’s permit has been amended to give Covad six months if they need it.

“They should have plenty of time to deploy, get the state approvals, and get the stuff up and running and tested,” he says.

A broader business model

A key focus of the project as a whole, Fearey says, is the search for a workable business model for a municipal wireless deployment.

“We wanted a broader business model that would allow for many different kinds of customers and sources of money… we figured the more kinds of business opportunities you have, the more likely the network is to succeed,” he says, noting that potential applications for the network include everything from voice over Wi-Fi to monitoring industrial equipment, meter reading, education, health care, and more.

Fearey says the failure of MetroFi’s municipal deployments last month validated Wireless Silicon Valley’s search for a broader financial base.

“The MetroFi model was pretty narrowly targeted at residential, and then they said, ‘Let’s expand, and let’s target business and government,’” he says. “And that’s good, but is that enough to carry the cost of the entire network? We don’t know. Nobody’s been able to make it work so far, at any rate.”

Similarly, Fearey says, the network should use a broader range of technologies than just Wi-Fi.

“The right frequency, the right protocol, for the right application… but you don’t necessarily have to have 100 percent coverage,” he says. “For example, if you wanted to do ZigBee, and your application has to do with, let’s say, landscape management, then you only need to put out ZigBee equipment around the areas where you think you’ve got landscaping opportunities… you don’t need to necessarily have it everywhere.”

And he says he’s keeping a close eye on WiMAX, as well.

“What we really want to see is more client-side devices that speak WiMAX before going very far—but on a point-to-point basis, WiMAX today can be really fantastic,” Fearey says. “If somebody’s got a desktop and they want to plug in a WiMAX card, why not give them access to that right now?”

For more on Wireless Silicon Valley, read “Wireless Silicon Valley Picks Provider,"" Silicon Valley Gears Up Wireless Plans," and "Citywide Wi-Fi's Latest Snags."

For more on WiMAX, visit our WiMAX section.

For more on city-wide deployments, read "The Problems with Citywide Wireless," "Muni Mesh Proving its "Mettle" in Minneapolis," and "Philly's Wi-Fi Receives Stay of Execution."

Jeff Goldman is a veteran technology journalist based in Southern California.



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