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Problems with Houston’s Municipal Wifi Project

Larry Hendrick criticizes the City of Houston’s municipal wifi project as a boondoggle.

The projected cost of the equipment and build-out for downtown only, is $1 million dollars according to the referenced article. This is an estimate by a government agency, so we know how accurate this figure is in the real construction phase. The real cost will probably be in the neighborhood of $3 million dollars with a total build out for all of Houston in the $30 million dollar range. Now keep in mind, this is just for the equipment and implementation expenses. And just to clarify, you can not build a wireless network to cover any part of Houston with $50 wireless access points from CompUSA. It requires enterprise equipment that runs in the hundreds (up to one thousand dollars) at each location and will serve an area in the range of 100 meters. You read that right, 100 meters of coverage for one thousand dollars of equipment, not yet installed and so far, no connectivity. Currently all enterprise WiFi equipment runs 802.11b, so there will be a limit on the speed and number of people that can access at one time. This tends to limit the revenue numbers if they are kept real.

Incoming bandwidth has a cost that is cheaper in downtown Houston, than where I am 25 miles from downtown. There are two costs associated with incoming bandwidth, access and transport. Access is the price per mbs (megabits per second) of bandwidth that is purchased, and the price range is wide. I have seen this as low as $50/mbs in downtown, but our best price is more than eight times than number 25 miles south of Houston. Transport is the price it costs to get the access to your NOC (network operation center), and this is dictated by how far you are from the downtown POP (point of presence), owned by the big telcos (RBOCs). This price is cheap, there again, in downtown Houston, but increases as you move out, until finally, where we are, this price is as much as the access.

Outgoing bandwidth is the cost of getting the connectivity to the wireless access points. In our case with DSL, Verizon will bring nothing smaller than an OC3 (155mbs fiber) to the prim and will turn up nothing smaller than a DS3 (45mbs), This cost is greater than the incoming cost, but is our only way to tie into the Verizon system. This expense is required to get connections to a lot of the access points, because a wireless mesh network (such as the one proposed) has yet to work in an environment like the City of Houston. Many have tried, but as far as I know, all have

I’ll say more about this later.

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