The implementation of broadband wireless technology by cities to improve, enhance and offer more efficient municipal services to residents and businesses has long been a hot topic. But only now is the wireless industry seeing greater adoption of its technologies to provide for emergency and other municipal services. The Smart City Summit, held in Ottawa on April 27 and 28, featured presentations from several wireless companies not only touting the benefits of wireless technology, but also highlighting actual municipal implementations. Bernard Herscovich, president and CEO of Ottawa-based BelAir Networks, talked about broadening commercial hotspots into municipal hot zones, and the ability of city-wide broadband wireless networks to efficiently and cost-effectively allow municipalities to roll out applications for essential services. He said police, fire and other emergency operations would be able to access critical information while in the field. He added that broadband wireless could be used not only for essential services, but other municipal services such as traffic monitoring could be done wirelessly. For this to be done cost-effectively, Herscovich said, cities have to look for a simpler approach to network deployment. Rather than building out a vast network of hotspots, municipalities need a mid-range system that offers the benefits of both a cellular network and wireless local area network (WLAN). He points to the company’s mesh network architecture, which can provide this type of functionality at a fraction of the cost. BelAir’s gear is already being tested in two deployments in the Greater Ottawa Area by Telecom Ottawa, a local utility telecom. The network has been installed at Ottawa City Hall and the Nepean Sportsplex in the city’s west end (RoW, Feb. 10/04). Herscovich also said during his April 27 presentation that Ottawa’s Elgin Street in the downtown core will become a hot zone in the future and that there is a project to make the entire city a hot zone. Other Canadian cities have already deployed large wireless LANs to cover their downtown cores. The City of Calgary rolled out a four-hotspot network in its downtown core last year (RoW, July 9/03) and the City of Fredericton recently completed a similar network. According to a recent projection from IDC, there could be almost 4,000 municipal wireless networks deployed around the world by 2007. Intel Canada’s Kevin Mulhall stated in his presentation on April 28 that there are between 40 and 60 city-wide WLAN deployments where municipal government organizations have been the driving force behind the network rollout. And they have done it for a variety of reasons, he explained during WiMAX and the Wireless City: Enhancing Productivity, Efficiency and Lifestyle. The City of Westminster in the United Kingdom will save about £5 million (about $12.5 million) over a three-year period through the use of a large wireless LAN. The money saved comes from the efficiencies realized in linking up a variety of municipal services, such as connecting security cameras and wirelessly enabling city workers. Fredericton used its extensive fibre backbone to build out a wireless network in its downtown core, and there are plans to expand the connectivity throughout the entire region. While the municipal governments in Westminster and Fredericton led the charge to deploy the wireless network, in other cities the private sector is paving the way. Mulhall explained that the business community in the City of Rio Rancho, located in Texas, wanted to make the community more attractive to prospective residents. The city now has a ubiquitous wireless network in its arsenal. Deploying broad-based fixed wireless networks in high-density urban centres is one thing, but making that kind of connectivity available to residents and businesses in suburban and outlying areas is another. This is where equipment based on the emerging WiMAX standard will come into play and commercial deployments of the technology will likely begin in 2005. Gear based on WiMAX, or the 802.16 standard, can become the backhaul last-mile connection for users who normally couldn’t get broadband, Mulhall said. With ranges of about 50 kilometres between base stations afforded through WiMAX, rolling out a network becomes cost effective. In a January 2004 interview with Report on Wireless, Mitch Vine, director of product marketing at Redline Communications, said that he expects per subscriber deployment costs to be in the $200 to $300 range. Enterprise applications Two other Ottawa area companies are working together on a new mesh architecture that will allow for a wireless IP PBX application. Simmic.Net Inc. and eXRAY Broadband have teamed up to deploy this system in two trial deployments this summer. Both Carleton University and the Communications Research Centre’s Shirley’s Bay campus will be outfitted with the mesh network. In the trial phase it is using two variants of the Wi-Fi standard, but will eventually be upgraded to the WiMAX standard. John Roberts, president and VP of R&D at Simmic.Net, explained during the Applications of Broadband Mesh Networks session at the Smart City Summit on April 28 that the company is working to integrate Wi-Fi and WiMAX into a single unit. Wi-Fi will be used as the connectivity bandwidth within the home or office setting, while the WiMAX protocol will serve as the connector to other nodes within the mesh. The devices will sit on the windowsill of either the home or office, making it easy to connect to the network. Roberts said that enabling the mesh network to self-configure, find other access points or nodes and reconfigure if nodes are removed is the ultimate goal. eXRAY Broadband, which is developing the wireless IP PBX, said it is building on the convergence of voice, data and video over a wireless IP network. The company’s ZAPmode platform will provide roaming in a wireless IP environment. eXRAY Broadband’s product will also have presence and instant messaging functionality. ZAPmode also supports other applications such as RFID and can support traditional POTS telephony.