Ponca City, Oklahoma blends municipal wireless with energy management

Ponca City, Oklahoma has deployed a municipal wireless broadband network that has two elements: wireless automated meters (AMR) and free Wi-Fi for residents. The networks are completely separate. Honeywell deployed the wireless AMR network for the city to reduce energy costs. Tropos designed, installed and provides maintenance for the 490 wireless mesh nodes and gateways around the 60 square miles of Ponca City. The city plans to install wireless video cameras in police vehicles so precinct dispatchers and supervisors can monitor activities during traffic stops. Police officers can use the citywide wireless network to connect to online databases and file reports from the field. Nearly every city department has plans to use the municipal wireless network. Honeywell is responsible for installing and maintaining the wireless broadband and metering infrastructure; the city is managing the network on a day-to-day basis.

Free Wi-Fi for residents is a separate city initiative that takes advantage of the fiber network. The cost of providing free Wi-Fi is minimal because the city does not offer any tech support. The city does sell fiber capacity to large companies and institutions, and the revenues from the sale of fiber broadband service support the free Wi-Fi network.

What makes this project interesting is that Ponca City is the utility and owns the fiber that provides the backhaul for the wireless AMR project as well as for the free citywide Wi-Fi service. Revenues from the sale of fiber broadband service support the citywide free Wi-Fi service.  Since the city is providing utility services, city officials are under pressure from voters to lower the rates that residents pay for water and electricity, and to make efficient energy management a top priority.

There is a “quiet adoption”  of muni wireless projects among small to mid-sized cities, in particular those that own the public utility and the fiber network in the city, despite the highly publicized failures of municipal wireless networks in Philadelphia and San Francisco. These smaller municipalities begin their muni wireless deployments by solving one specific problem (energy management or public safety), then expand to other areas of municipal activity precisely because the network has multiple uses.

Recently, the Obama administration announced that the federal government will be spending billions of dollars upgrading America’s infrastructure, including broadband. Given that the administration’s other top priority includes energy efficiency, there is a big opportunity for cities, large and small, to blend wireless automated meter reading, smart energy grid management with high-speed wired and wireless broadband networks.

Related news:

Wall Street Journal takes a second look at municipal Wi-Fi networks
(with podcast interview of Esme Vos)

Webinar event: Building a citywide wireless foundation for municipal services
(CIO of Rock Hill, SC will discuss their citywide wireless network)

Thomasville, GA launches muni wireless network (city is the utility)


  1. This article gives a great insight to some real world savings in the efficient use of available public sector communication network assets. Ponca City has the advantage of owning their own fiber optic backbone but this is actually true for many cities and counties. There are thousands of miles of public sector wireless and fiber optic communication assets available in local public safety, water, electric and transportation network facilities all over the US. These communication assets often equal or even surpass in size to local private sector network infrastructure investment.

    The problem with public sector network facilities is that they are often bought a point to point at a time for government departmental cost reduction purposes and are not shared between other agencies. This often leaves hundreds of multi-agency government network duplications and even entire local dark fiber spurs connected to nothing. Basically the network stops when the department runs out of money.

    The key is to inventory all of these existing partially built public sector networks and then have multiple government entities leverage the advantages of sharing of these network infrastructures. Add a little public/private sector municipal wireless and you can light up an entire city. These shared networks can reduce city and county departmental network costs while lowering tax and utility costs to citizens. It looks like Ponca City gets it and demonstrates a real world and sustainable business model for municipal wireless.

  2. I was recently in Ponca City over Christmas and noticed the Tropos radios around town. I was able to access the Free WiFi network and it seemed to work pretty good.

    I am glad to see more networks going up. I also own a network, in Pryor, Oklahoma. I am currently using the Cisco 1522, and 1510 radio’s in a city wide deployment. We started the network in Dec 07 and it has been working great ever since. I agree with the comments about the wireless braodband services thriving in the rural areas over the metro.

  3. Concerned Reader says

    Unfortunately the person who wrote this article did not research the AMI system that is installed in Ponca City. The Ponca City AMI system does not use Tropos to collect or transmit water and electric meter data/readings. Honeywell did install the Tropos system in Ponca City after the completion of the of the AMI project. The AMI system that is installed in Ponca City is far superior to what is offered by Tropos and their metering/AMR partner.

  4. Just a note to say to all that reads to be to check out all available vendors and architecture before signing off on a new project. There are pros and cons to all systems. A system that works in one city may not work in another. Saying so openingly that one system is far superior to another is easy to do with no factual documentation and not signing your own name……

  5. Jim Allen says

    It is a good idea for those who need basic internet but if your counting on high speed not gonna happen in parts of town. The nodes that they have placed throughout town are going down losing signal strength. They talk you into buying a pepwave modem for around 160 then when you still drop signal they dont fix the nodes. Maybe some day it will be a great service but for now just good enough to send an email sometimes.