Hollywood, FL muni Wi-Fi network a flop

Two years ago, we reported that Hollywood, Florida hired Johnson Controls to deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network for automated meter reading, parking meters, and public Wi-Fi access. As you can see from the more than 90 responses to my original post about the Hollywood, FL network, the public access side of the network was unreliable. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not.

The Miami Herald reported on 28 August 2011 that the city has given up on the project:

More than three years ago, the city of Hollywood borrowed $16 million to pay for a wireless communications platform, which would give residents free computer network service, as well as provide an automated water meter reader system and solar-powered parking meters. But the system doesn’t fully work. The idea was simple: install transmitters throughout the city that would allow water meters to be read and transmitted digitally and parking meters that would accept credit cards and work for all spaces. There would also be a secure network for police, fire and code enforcement officers. The bonus was a wireless network for the residents. But Johnson Controls, the company hired to handle the project, ran into problems installing enough access points — similar to antennas — throughout the city that would allow the system to work . . . Johnson Controls was met with problems. The automated meter reader system would not work because the digital equipment would not transmit through concrete caps. The company then placed the caps with plastic ones, but when it rained the caps floated away . . . After months of trying different caps and methods, the automated reader system should be online any day . . . the parking meters are also working, but with cellular modems instead of wireless, which is being paid for by Johnson Controls. The Wi-Fi portion, however, will likely not work . . .

Ken Biba pointed out in Guidelines for Successful Large Scale Outdoor Wi-Fi Networks, one of the critical factors is density of deployment of wireless access points:

“Service providers should deploy at least 2×2 MIMO 802.11n for both access and backhaul tiers, 60 nodes per square mile (at least), to ensure the best coverage and performance. Sufficient node density is critical.”

Most of the muni Wi-Fi networks that failed underestimated the number of access points needed, the cost of backhaul, the difficulty of the terrain, and more. It’s much better (and cheaper) to deploy a network in small areas (hotzones) where a lot of people congregate to check email, access the Internet, etc. and these days, it’s the carriers like AT&T that have more of a financial incentive to do this because they are keen to offload data traffic onto Wi-Fi networks (see AT&T launches Wi-Fi hotzone in Palo Alto, California).


  1. What’s most annoying about these municipal deployments is that the “bar to entry” to bid is ridiculous – and most of it is from unrealistic expectations (wine taste, beer budget). This is what you get when you put you trust in a brand (Johnson Controls) and not in the small guy who knows his chops (me).

  2. Ken’s estimates are based on older design models and are too general. Depending on the terrain and environment, what a city would be willing to put up with aesthetically, and expectations of indoor coverage, that number could range from 4 per square mile to as many as 100. 2.4GHz is both LOS and non-LOS depending on the area and that means designs require a lot of ground surveillance to supplement software modeling. Most of the systems deployed never did that.

    What’s funny about Johnson Controls screwing up Hollywood so badly is that all the other SCADA meter systems know about these problem years ago.