St. Cloud, Florida launches free citywide Wi-Fi

St. Cloud, a suburb of Orlando, Florida, is launching today the first citywide Wi-Fi network in the world which offers free Internet access to anyone within the city boundaries. The city covers an area of 15 square miles and has a population of 28,000; expects to grow to 24 square miles and 74,000 citizens in less than 10 years. The St. Cloud, a suburb of Orlando, Florida, is launching today the first citywide Wi-Fi network in the world which offers free Internet access to anyone within the city boundaries. The city covers an area of 15 square miles and has a population of 28,000; expects to grow to 24 square miles and 74,000 citizens in less than 10 years. The city considers the provision of Wi-Fi to be a valuable public service.

Mayor Glenn Sangiovanni is with me today here at the Muniwireless Conference in Atlanta where he will be launching the city’s free service (together with Jonathan Baltuch of MRI, the consultant to the project). He will be discussing St. Cloud’s digital inclusion program, which is an integral part of the city’s Wi-Fi project, at the Applications pre-conference session today (March 6 at 12:30pm).

Giant community intra-net

St. Cloud’s network is in effect a giant community intranet. The municipal government will save thousands of dollars on telecommunications costs alone by canceling expensive T-1 line leases and mobile phone subscriptions. The city plans to replace its employees’ mobile phones with VOIP phones that allow them to call other city workers on the network. Why should you pay a mobile operator to call a fellow employee who is a few miles away? And if you only call within your city, wouldn’t you want one of these phones so you can make free calls?

It’s no surprise that cities such as St. Cloud are rolling out these networks. Communities that are growing rapidly need to deliver even more services to an expanding population, but do not necessarily have a lot of money to spend on hiring personnel. So they’re finding ways to use technology to serve the public better while keeping a lid on costs. Example: the police department. Police officers that have Wi-Fi enabled devices can file reports from the field, monitor wireless video cameras that are mounted in high-crime areas also from their cars or while on foot-patrol, and download information from state and local databases – all this without having to drive back and forth to the station. That means officers spend more time out in the community.

Building inspectors are another group that can do their work more efficiently. Instead of driving between construction sites and their office to view construction plans, they can now visit building sites, gain access to the plans remotely, issue citations or permits from the field. Again, this cuts down on driving time, fuel costs, wear and tear on the vehicles.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of St. Cloud’s network is the free access component. St. Cloud does not have to spend a lot of money on billing and customer service precisely because the service is free. It also encourages people to get on the network and these days, the value of a network rises in proportion to the number of people on it. Startups with social networking applications (Meetro, Placesite) will find cities such as St. Cloud to be very interesting places to test their applications.

Comments

  1. I commend St Cloud for taking on the task of offering this service. I have used this network and the speed is very good. I was able to see the Hewlett-Packard tecks install some of the Tropos Access Points near my work. They are barely noticable on the light and power poles. Now I just wish I lived in the city limits.

  2. What about authentication? Can anyone send thousands of spam mail from the St. Cloud IP space, launch attacks or other illegal activities? How do they handle QOS between the VOIP, city business and BitTorrent P2P? How much of the city has been covered?

  3. For Ray – Tank you for the kind words. Glad you had a chance to experience the Cyber Spot. Today St. Cloud – Tomorrow the entire country, free Internet for all 🙂

    For Jon – Wow – alot of questions 🙂

    The St. Cloud system is wide open and does not have filtering. All filtering takes place on the client.

    One thing that the Cyber Spot does do is block all peer to peer communications.

    As far as city business, public safety, education, medical and some others they are all handled on different channels each with their own required security. Only the public access channel is open.

    At the moment VOIP is only supported for City functions on a different and secure channel.

    I hope this helps.

  4. I made use of this system when visiting my sister in Saint Cloud. The system worked great out in the back yard, not so good in her concrete block home. pretty cool stuff, with a caveat …

    It is my understanding that in each access point (mounted on light and power poles) includes a camera. Be sure to look up and smile when you leave your house in the morning, big brother is watching. An for those who enjoy nude sunbathing in the privacy of your back yard, better cover up if you don’t want to end up an internet porn star. There is no such thing as a fully secure network thanks to bill gates and the widespread use of his toy ‘operating system’ known as Windows.

    Mikey

  5. First, Michael, I am glad you enjoyed visiting your sister and had a chance to surf the Cyber Spot.

    You brought up a couple of points which I will try to answer.

    1. Your connectivity indoors- This is something that depends on many factors including the construction materials of the house as well as the transmitter in your computer. This issue is totally resolved with the installation of a wireless bridge which the city has for sale.

    To date there have been about 2,800 registered users on the system and about 300 have purchased the bridges. In the end we would expect that 20-30% might need or desire to have these devices.

    The reason, however, is misunderstood. Most people believe it is because the Wi-Fi signal does not penetrate indoors. While that does happen on occasion the more prevelant issue (usually with laptops) is that the radio in the laptop is extremely low power and is unable to push the signal back out to the AP. Both issues are resolved with the bridge (we happen to use the PepLink device which is working really well). Since about 80% of the users are utilizing desktops with either a wireless card or USB adapter, the problem is not that prevelant.

    The other item you bring up is more serious and I want to definitively set the record straight. At this point St. Cloud does not have one single camera deployed on the system and there most certainly will not be cameras deployed on every node.

    They do intend to utilize cameras to monitor remote utilitiy locations, public parks and some key intersections. They most definitely will have no desire to monitor people’s homes.

    Thanks again for your post.

  6. […] All’s not so great in Wi-Fi land. The AP reports that the first city-wide Wi-Fi network – St. Cloud, Fla.’s 15-square-mile installation – is frustrating users with spotty, often nonexistent service. Joe Lusardi’s friends back in New York couldn’t believe it when he told them he’d have free Internet access through this city’s new Wi-Fi network. ”Everybody’s happy they were going to have it, but I don’t know if they’re happy right now,” said Lusardi, a 66-year-old retired New York City transit worker. […]

  7. Don’t let a few bad articles spoil the fun. You guys have accomplished a lot in very little time.

    Congratulations and keep up the good work!

    As with all complex solutions it takes time to work all the kinks out.

    Nice job St. Cloud for daring to be first.

  8. Angel Collado says

    I want to thank St. Cloud for providing this great service to its citizens. I will save approximately $45 per month when I give up my broadband connection. I will need the PepLink device as my PC does not receive/send a strong enough signal, but it will pay for itself after 4 months. However, my laptop, which has an Intel PRO/Wireless 2915 ABG card built in, has an excellent connection (I’m using it right now) which is faster than broadband. So, I am proof that it depends on your existing hardware.

    Thanks St. Cloud!

  9. Stephen Slomiak says

    I represent a community in Boynton Beach Florida. We are interested in setting up a community wifi hotspot. Can you be of service to us and how?

  10. […] Unlike St. Cloud, Florida and Mountain View, California, Brownsburg has decided free equals really slow, but you can also pay for faster service (no word yet on how much for how fast). To be fair, most cities are not offering free fast Wi-Fi. In Municipal Wireless Posted Friday, September 8, 2006 […]

  11. John Fulton says

    About the Peplink Unit —– Is it a stand alone unit or is it a computer card (internal/external/usb)? Must a master computer be ON or ON LINE in my home before I can use another one of my computers to go on line? Will the houses next door be able to see or connect to MY Peplink Unit?
    Awaiting your reply —- Thanks.

    John

  12. It’s pretty slow.