Oklahoma City rolls out world’s largest muni Wi-Fi mesh network

On June 3, 2008 Oklahoma City is launching what it claims to be the largest city-owned municipal Wi-Fi mesh network in the world. The network, which went live in September 2006 and has been improved and expanded since that time, will be used only for public safety and municipal applications; it is not open to the public for Internet access.

The city paid $5 million for the network out of public safety capital sales tax and city capital improvement funds. The network consists of 1100 mesh nodes from Tropos Networks which are installed on siren towers, buildings and traffic lights; 900 mobile nodes are installed in city vehicles, allowing city workers to communicate with the mounted Wi-Fi mesh nodes and extend the coverage area. The city will add more nodes when needed.

I spoke to Mark Meier, IT director of Oklahoma City and he says that the network covers 555 square miles with 95 percent coverage in urban areas and 95 percent coverage on main roads. Police officers now have better access to crime databases in real time: they can download photos and file reports in the field. They can also connect to the 300 video surveillance cameras that are installed throughout the city. City inspectors have been using Wi-Fi enabled devices to streamline the review and processing of construction inspections and permits. The fire department will use the network so that they have the most recent information about locations before proceeding to a fire or accident (e.g. site maps, building floor plans, hazardous materials information). Eventually other city departments (public works, utilities) will use the network. Approximately 1200 people use the network everyday.

When I asked Meier what were the biggest surprises, he says he is impressed most by how well the network actually works. One can sit in a police car traveling at 40 miles per hour and get a continuous video feed from the surveillance cameras. He also says that the network was much more complicated to set up because so many variables were at play.

Open to the public anytime soon?

I asked if they would ever open up the network for public access and Meier replied that in 2006, they issued an RFP for the public access portion, but no one responded. That’s probably because the city wanted the provider to pay for all of the costs of the deployment with only $150,000 in city contribution. Click here to see my detailed post on the Oklahoma City RFP.

The trend in municipal wireless broadband is definitely moving towards either a mixed use (public access plus municipal applications as in Cambria County, Allegany County, Minneapolis and Riverside, California) or municipal use only (Corpus Christi and now Oklahoma City).

Below is the map of Oklahoma City showing the network coverage. The area within the blue lines is the urban core, where there is 95 percent coverage. The red lines denote the main line roads where there is 95 percent coverage.

CLARIFICATION AND UPDATE (8 July 2008):

Mark Meier sent me an email in response to Dan Stuart’s comment below and to my erroneous statement regarding the $150,000 chamber of commerce RFP:

Few items first, I can assure you that the 95% coverage rates quoted are accurate.  We have very precise testing demonstrating that level of coverage.  Tropos was required to actually test multiple times to meet the level required.  As noted, the minimum was 512 K to be considered a successful test.

The “magic” is the 4210 mobile router.  We have repeatedly pointed that out in every presentation we have made. The 95% coverage is at street level with a 4210 mobile router.  I have attached three slides I have
used in virtually every presentation I make, hopefully they will clarify this issue.

To me the question is the essence of the WIFI “failures” that I have heard about.  Failure to produce specific goals.  Failure to establish reasonable expectations.  Failure to develop a methodology to verify the
expectations were met.  Failure to identify a sustainable support and funding structure.

The successful implementations I have seen are those that clearly identified a specific goal and ensured the system met those goals.  I count ours as one of those.  We designed our system to meet our goals at
a specific price point, which it continues to do with great aplomb. While it may not meet the expectations and vision of someone with a different set of goals, it has and continues to be a very successful model to build on for us and our needs.  Which is actually the point, right?

One other note.  You have mixed the RFPs up.  You mention that we only offered $150,000 in City Contribution, which was actually a Chamber of Commerce proposal to build a new system.  It was not the City’s RFP, which came about a year later after Earthlink made the request to buy, partner or manage our system in response to the Chamber’s RFP. I would personally attribute the failed response to the City’s RFP to Earthlink’s presence that made it seem ineffective for anyone else to propose.

And by the way, even for the Chamber’s RFP the original $150,000 was to provide a limited build out of the downtown area only.

Comments

  1. Dan Stuart says:

    1100 mesh nodes for 555 square miles with 95% coverage ? that’s ~ 2 nodes per square mile ? Seems very improbable. Can you explain further ?

  2. Dan Stuart says:

    Clearly an external mobile radio with a high gain antenna would extend the range beyond that of a 50mw WiFi laptop client. But I disagree that the “magic” is in the 4210.

    The real “magic” is in defining what the meaning of the word ‘coverage” is.

    Marks requirements and his goal was/ is “95% of urban areas and main roads within the 555 square mile area. I believe that is considerably different then “555 square miles of coverage”. Indeed, it leaves all of the geographic area within the 555 square miles that does not meet the criteria, without coverage. I suspect that the geographic area without coverage is considerably greater then the geographic area with coverage. At the end of the day, it met Marks needs and that is what is most important.

    I agree with Mark Meier’s assessment of the failures in the muni WiFi market. I also applaud his diligence in setting a measurement standard that met his requirements.

    I believe that statements like “555 square miles of coverage” need to be explained. Unchallenged hype and spin about coverage, throughput, etc, for both WiFi and WiMax has led to many a disillusioned customer. Had those failed enterprises folled Marks advice, ie identified a sustainable support and funding structure ,set specific goals that are reasonable in expectation and developed a methodology to verify the expectations they would have likely succeeded in there endeavor and I might be connected to a high speed WiFi network instead of this slow clunky Verizon network.

    Thanks for the clarification !

    Dan