13 Sep Think Wisconsin has Wi-Fi woes? Check out the Windy City
Dynamic decisions for new network infrastructure are often made by visionaries and decision makers rather than committees or consortiums.
Several people have contacted me from very different corners of the market to review a recent article in the Chicago Tribune by Jon Van as well as a later commentary in MuniWireless on what happened to CivicNet in Chicago. Views differ about what’s accomplishable and what isn’t in building new network infrastructure.
Some strong reader reactions were sent to me about the Chicago Tribune article. Here’s one veteran perspective:
“The rush to Wi-Fi failed to understand the need for a fiber-based infrastructure to support stable, high-performing wireless to wireline interconnectivity. Illinois House Bill 1500 was couched in terms of opening competition. In reality, it allows the incumbent to proceed at its own pace to eliminate the requirement to negotiate municipal franchise fees.”
In the meantime, little AT&T spokespeople continue to [say that] households “are too far” from the local central office.
Any telecom engineer in the past 20 years could explain to the tech writers of today how to extend the local central office to the nearest corner of any large development.
That technology has been in existence for decades. There is simply no incentive to spend those dollars when there is very little competition and no time frame.
To add a positive spin to the article, at least the subject is being discussed in print.
As stated in earlier columns, Wi-Fi itself is not the universal solution. When are all the municipal “experts” going to wake up? I have always supported a fiber-based infrastructure for the robustness as well as the broadband connectivity it would provide to an urban area like Chicago.
Another reader and telecom authority e-mailed me this about the same article:
“[This is] an utterly disgusting article. I suspect the “authority” (Chris O’Brien) in whom Van places so much reliance is either a direct sell out to the jokers from San Antonio (AT&T) or an utter fool. I really can’t tell which.
It’s time to move on. As they say in marketing: ‘The window of opportunity has closed.’ For Chicago, getting a jump on other major cities for a regional competitive advantage has faded. Pure Wi-Fi is not the answer.”
Competitive advantage has slid to competitive necessity and will soon sink to competitive disadvantage if nothing sophisticated is done.
It seems as though we are starting to see a new trend. We are seeing “experts” jumping on our bandwagon instead of pounding the drum for Wi-Fi. The real network engineers always knew fiber was needed for major metropolitan areas.
Another longtime telecom infrastructure engineer offered this about Wi-Fi implementations:
“Design theory by ‘guess’ is not design. The people with only Wi-Fi experience have screwdriver and ladder skills and can name many spots where the same types of guesswork have been used to do just-in-time service delivery.
Big networks mean big money and big profits. Just ask the incumbent providers. Cheap networks mean cheap money and usually fail.”
It was a good Idea
My perspective is slightly different than O’Brien’s. The failure with Chicago’s CivicNet came because there was no clear champion for the project. There was also a company that failed to provide what they first promised to in terms of infrastructure. The telecom providers were not the ones that dropped the ball.
This was going to be a consortium approach where you had many vendors, city agencies, and people all trying to put something together. No one person was given complete charge and it never got off the ground. There was a lot of politics involved between telecom providers and government agencies.
When the revised numbers came in about what it would cost, no one wanted to “jump at the challenge.” From a pure turf issue, it didn’t make sense for an agency like the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to give up all the control in their rights of way for fiber-optic cables.
This was conveyed to me years ago: “If you own the beach, why sell it to a private hotel developer and not even be promised a permanent free room?” Worse yet, who would give away the land for next to nothing without any long-term guarantees or even a room at a discounted rate?
It’s funny how you could directly apply that logic to any municipal right of way. Few politicians see the light on network infrastructure using fiber. Less (if any) see the green.
O’Brien failed to mention in his commentary in MuniWireless that Chicago did implement fiber to all its police and fire buildings back in 1995. This was prior to his tenure and long before anyone else looked at SONET as a solution for municipalities.
There were 176 miles of fiber-based SONET network installed. That was considered far ahead of any municipality. We did that as part of a 911 center project. (Editor’s disclaimer: Jim Carlini was a consultant to the mayor’s office on that project.)
Pay me now or die later
While putting in a real network infrastructure isn’t cheap, it should be looked at as a long-term investment for regional economic development just like an airport or an intercontinental dock and shipping facility.
In looking at the dynamics of the market, I see second- and third-tier cities being more aggressive in this area than the top 10. Maybe that’s because they are closer in realizing the critical need to do something to survive and create a viable network infrastructure to attract and maintain new corporate facilities.
Viable corporations have broadband connectivity at the top of their site-selection criteria.
Look for places like Fort Wayne, Ind. (population 252,000) or Jacksonville, Fla. (population 794,555) to surpass others that have several hundreds of thousands more in population because they have made the commitment and investment in broadband connectivity. Fort Wayne has fiber to the premises (FTTP) and Jacksonville has connectivity to the National Lambda Rail (NLR).
Those cities that see network infrastructure as a long-term investment will not only take an active part in managing it, but they will also actively fund it. They realize it is a critical platform for their regional sustainability. Those that don’t will fall behind not only in business vitality but in general population as well.
Carlinism: Few municipalities see the light on network infrastructure using fiber. Less (if any) see the green.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• Think Wisconsin has Wi-Fi woes? Check out the Windy City
• James Carlini: Bandwidth fairy tales: When will the “Three Little Pigs” get it right?
• James Carlini: Municipal Wi-Fi “experts” have egg on their faces
• James Carlini: How good (or bad) is your local emergency plan?
• James Carlini: Product dumping, labor dumping – it’s all the same
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.
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