take note. Municipal broadband--city- or county-wide wireline and wireless
networks--not only helps governments operate more effectively, it can also help
dramatically reduce costs and increase the value of mobile applications. This
much-needed catalyst should move managers off the fence and have them deploying
mobile workforce automation and asset management applications, particularly in
small and medium-size companies.
of the publicity for municipal networks has centered around giving citizens
free or inexpensive Internet access, the real ROI lies in two areas: enabling
governments to operate more effectively and offering businesses high-speed
access (1 to 2 Mbps or more download and upload) for $20 or $25 per month per
Show Me the Money in Muni Broadband
understand the financial impact for local government, consider these success
stories. Merton Auger, city administrator of Buffalo, Minn.,
reports: "We did business planning for public works and public safety and
determined that we'd have a five-year payback on the network. These included
time and gas savings from not having to drive back and forth from the field to
the office all day, and instant information access so mobile workers resolve
Unit Manager Leonard Scott in Corpus
states: "We estimated our automated meter reading system to save over $1.6
million for the 20-year life of the application."
Hewitt, CIO of Providence, R.I., estimates that its network, besides greatly
improving the effectiveness of public safety personnel, will eliminate an hour
at the beginning of each day and the hour and a half before quitting time that
building inspectors spend commuting into the office. "The bigger impact is that
we can complete inspections of building projects sooner and get those up
faster," says Hewitt. "This helps the tax base, attracts new businesses and increases
the velocity of investments because you finish projects faster and with fewer
And in Concord, Calif.,
Director of IT Ron Puccinelli believes that "by consolidating all of our
communications functions into one mobile device, we expect to save $180,000
based on our formal cost benefit analysis."
cities make headlines for less-than-stellar performance, these success stories
are based on an understanding of the business case for muni networks.
entities use WiFi to wirelessy enable their people and physical assets that
work primarily on the premises because of the resulting cost savings and
improved efficiencies. Why pay recurring cellular wireless data costs for
mobile workers when you own the infrastructure for wireless Internet or
intranet access that's faster than cellular?
workplace of local government employees is their jurisdiction's geographic
boundaries. The city owns or can negotiate access to the infrastructure on
which WiFi is deployed. Employee productivity and efficiency is greater with
broadband rather than with slow cellular service. The cities' budgets don't
take hits from per-worker or per-asset charges. "We spend $500,000 a year in
cellular phone bills," says Scott, "so new WiFi-enabled handsets using VoIP
over our network means we won't have to pay for minutes."
distracts from ROI discussions is the hype. "Too often the focus is on fancy
video services and free or inexpensive WiFi for consumers," says Angela
Singhal, director of municipal wireless solutions at Nortel. "They are
important, but applications such as public safety, digital video surveillance
and advanced meter infrastructure [AMI] pay for these networks. They may not be
sexy, but they are critical to success. For example, about $1.6 million can be
recouped with an AMI deployment for 20,000 utility meters."
The Promise of ROI
senior VP of marketing and alliances for BelAir Networks assesses why municipal
broadband is low on most companies' radar screens. "Businesses haven't gotten
their heads fully around it yet," he
explains. "It's a relatively new concept. This year a number of cities are
completing their networks, and providers will be offering services specifically
for businesses. Most don't view consumers as their only source of revenue."
businesses realize muni networks provide a better cost-per-speed alternative
than cellular networks, expect to see interest in mobile applications to
increase significantly. Midsize and smaller companies are still hesitant,
relative to their larger counterparts, to adopt wireless applications. At $60
per month per worker for upload speeds that are about twice that of dial-up, it
is difficult to justify the expense when there is not enough symmetrical speed
to run video, VoIP and other mainstream mobile applications.
reported in 2006 that in North America and Europe,
small businesses most frequently were using wireless email (28 percent) and
personalized contacts and calendars (25 percent). Fewer companies had mobile
applications, with between 11 percent and 15 percent of SMBs adopting sales
force automation, portals, customer facing applications and VoIP. Municipal
broadband should change these numbers.
In a June
2007 survey of 300 economic development professionals sponsored by the
International Economic Development Council, 42 percent of those professionals
expect municipal wireless, and 47 percent expect municipal wireline networks,
to directly impact and increase business productivity and competitiveness. Another
25 percent and 28 percent, respectively, expect an indirect impact.
networks are in place, there will be a market for applications," states Donald
Berryman, EarthLink's president of municipal networks. "Muni wireless offers a
benefit that attracts small businesses, and I see them taking advantage of the
technology with applications that reduce costs and re-direct the savings into
which last year acquired rugged mobile device manufacturer Symbol, concurs.
"Most businesses have WiFi and a lot have GPS capabilities on existing mobile
devices, which makes them ready for muni networks," comments Craig Newman,
market development manager. "We're on the cusp of finding the right
applications that businesses can use with these networks. Field workers going
into smaller towns and rural areas where muni networks are bringing wireless
for the first time will really benefit."
Broadband is More than Wireless
broadband doesn't end with mobile workers and wireless. Freeze observes: "It's
clear that providers plan to target businesses with T1 alternatives, similar to
what happened in Galt, Calif. When they installed our network
around malls for consumers, businesses in the area subscribed." Muni network
vendors can install the service more cost effectively and with less business
disruption. High-powered customer premise equipment from companies such as
Ruckus Wireless ensure high-speed indoor coverage.
anticipates an end to some service redlining. "There are businesses in certain
parts of town paying more for T1 lines than in other parts of town for the same
service, which impacts where you can do business. Eliminating this produces
additional cost reductions for businesses and brings more of them into the digital
networks such as fiber may have more appeal for some than wireless. Fredericton, New Brunswick,
formed a co-op with 30 of its largest companies to lease the highspeed fiber
network the city built. If one of them wants a fiber line between buildings,
it's built. The city has also built a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition
(SCADA) system, for monitoring stations and the fiber backbone for a research
center, none of which incumbent telecom companies would do because the market
isn't large enough.
perceived challenge to muni wireless adoption by enterprises--roaming--is
becoming manageable. Vendors such as iPass enable seamless access to networks
whose operators subscribe to its service. David Hawkins, director of business
development for iPass finds "the gravitation by companies to WiFi is huge
because of hotspots. To mobile devices with our software muni wireless looks no
different than the typical commercial hotspots. We can roll the growing number
of metros into the same service plans. The software records the session, iPass
sorts out the billing."
another reason for concern, but some believe this threat is exaggerated. "It
doesn't matter how the client device gets to the main servers--cable,
WiFi--they're all vulnerable," observes Imran Abbas, manager of the Solutions
Architect Team for reseller CDW Government. "The real issue is how secure do
you make office servers from attack?" Good security here protects an enterprise
from public network threats.
"You need a
good understanding of what the security framework of the muni network is," adds
Joel Vincent Sr., manager of outdoor wireless systems for Cisco Systems. "It's
similar to an indoor network where you're trying to determine how you keep HR
data, for example, mobile but also private from the rest of the enterprise. You
have to be sure, when authenticating, that what people can do on the government
or enterprise side of the network is different than what they can do on the
general public areas."
client-level vulnerability, Abbas recommends requiring multiple methods of
authentication, high-level data encryption and compartmentalizing users'
access. "As an engineer I should not have access to HR records. So even if a
laptop is compromised, thieves can do limited damage. Of course, muni network
designers should incorporate high levels of security as well."
begin planning their mobile strategies for 2008, and the number of cities with
muni broadband increases, these networks should definitely influence decisions.
We may very well see a lot of the fence-sitters coming down firmly on the side
of these local government initiatives. //
Craig Settles is president of the
Bay Area consultancy Succesful.com.