21 Oct New alliance to provide Wi-Fi network for City of Madison
Madison, Wis. – Three private companies have formed a technology alliance to deploy a wireless mesh network canopy to provide broadband wireless Internet (“Wi-Fi”) access to residents, businesses and visitors. The alliance has the support of Madison’s Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.
The network will initially cover the downtown area and eventually extend over the entire city. The initial downtown deployment is anticipated to begin service by March 2006 and coverage will be extended throughout the city by early 2007 based on the success of the phase one rollout and the viability of the business model.
The three partners include Madison Gas & Electric, which is providing access on its streetlights and utility poles for the placement of Wi-Fi transmitters; Cellnet Technology, an Atlanta-based provider of real-time fixed network and advanced meter infrastructure to the utility industry; and Wireless Facilities Inc. (WFI), a San Diego-based company that designs, deploys, and manages security systems and wireless communication and technology networks.
WFI will work with Cellnet to design and deploy the Madison’s wireless network, while Cellnet will own and operate it as a wholesale operator. At some point, Cellnet will open the network to ISPs who want to resell their access services to users. Pricing is expected to be competitive with existing high-speed wired Internet access options in Madison, with the added benefit of being available in public spaces such as parks.
Cellnet has over 10 years of experience building real-time wireless meter reading networks. Wisconsin utilities now using their services for wireless meter reading services for billing include Xcel and We Energies. The company has additional wireless meter reading installations in Jacksonville, Austin and Colorado Springs.
Steve Kraus, MG&E spokesman, said: “The alliance is good for economic development. We are here as an utility for the long haul and this is a good project for the community we serve.” Kraus further commented that the company has no current plans to replace its new multi-million dollar wireless meter reading service which is in the final stages of deployment and this decision was not tied to any involvement with Cellnet, which provides real-time metering services for other Wisconsin utilities.
Mike Zito, Cellnet president and CEO said, “This initiative leverages our core competence in building and operating wireless mesh networks, and it’s a logical extension to our primary utility industry focus.”
Cellnet is now negotiating with ISPs who will be involved in reselling services, according to Cellnet spokesman Don McDonnell. The hardware vendors who will supply the network’s components will be named soon as well.
The consortium grew out of a process that began with the release of a joint RFP in December 2004 by the City of Madison, Dane County and State of Wisconsin. The wireless network had a launch date targeted for July 2005. An AOL-led consortium was awarded the first contract, but AOL withdrew from the project in September after missing the go-live date and further delayed the project.
Following that decision, WFI, which had partnered with AOL and invested significant resources in the project, sought out a new partner and identified Cellnet, forming the partnership announced yesterday. Along with the city and state, they approached MG&E, who agreed to offer access to its assets, thus forming this private sector partnership and avoiding further delays in case the city had had to reopen a competitive bid process, according the Mayor’s spokesperson, George Twigg. If there are some gaps in coverage, the city will allow Cellnet to place equipment on city-owned property, according to Twigg.
“This is exciting news for Madison residents, businesses and visitors,” said Cieslewicz. “In my Healthy City plan, I identified Wi-Fi as a goal for our community, and I am pleased that we are soon going to see that goal become a reality. In addition to providing an important new service for Madison residents and businesses, it will further strengthen Madison’s national reputation as a highly livable, business-friendly, technologically savvy community.”
The move to provide network infrastructure services for municipalities is an emerging and strategic area of focus for Cellnet partner WFI. The company recently announced it had joined with Google in a bid to provide Wi-Fi services in the City of San Francisco, and the company is actively involved with other municipal Wi-Fi projects as well.
Twigg commented that the City had considered approaching Google and Intel, who are launching pilot projects for free wireless access for municipalities such as San Francisco. However this would have further delayed the deployment, as there was no indication they would also do this for Madison. He said the city was comfortable with the technology partners with whom they’d been working for many months as part of the AOL deal.
The collaborative has also agreed to provided a “walled garden” for Madison for no charge wireless access to select web sites for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as government web sites, Twigg said.
See previous WTN coverage on Wi-Fi in Madison:
• Madison – Wired and unplugged
• Demise of SkyCable is opportunity for TDS Telecom
• Madison wi-fi plans move ahead