March 9, 2007 By Shane Peterson
With a roster including more than 40 city and county local governments, California's Wireless Silicon Valley is the biggest public-sector partnership created to form a regional wireless cloud. When completed, the Wireless Silicon Valley initiative will create a wireless network covering a 1,500-square-mile region that's home to approximately 2.4 million residents.
Two member cities, Palo Alto and San Carlos, played guinea pig in early February. Their respective city councils became the first to approve two model agreements -- one setting the terms of general wireless services for communities and the other stipulating enhanced services that meet public-sector agencies' needs.
The agreements serve as templates for other local governments' use, and will make it simpler for Metro Connect -- a coalition including Cisco Systems, IBM, Azulstar and SeaKay -- to negotiate with the cities and counties constituting Wireless Silicon Valley. Metro Connect won the RFP in September 2006 to build the wireless network.
By approving the agreements, the two cities became testing grounds for the Metro Connect technology behind Wireless Silicon Valley, said Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos and co-chair of the Wireless Silicon Valley task force. "[The Metro Connect coalition] wanted to get one city in each of the two main counties," Moura said. "They also wanted different cities. Palo Alto has its own electric utility so it's a different animal than say, San Carlos. While we own the streetlights in San Carlos, our power comes from PG&E [a private utility company].
"In one respect, Metro Connect is deploying the technology that they envision using for the whole network in these two communities," Moura continued. "But they're also testing all of the other processes -- how you get a permit or what other cooperative agreement you need."
The two cities' one-square-mile test zones incorporate a mix of customers -- small businesses, schools, residences and parks -- to test the load that a diverse blend of wireless users will put on the network, he explained.
Getting to this stage required some creative thinking by the winning vendor team and the participating local governments, Moura said.
Since September 2006, the Wireless Silicon Valley task force has been negotiating three agreement documents with the Metro Connect team, and both sides have made significant progress. Two of the agreements cover service levels, and the governing body of each participating city or county will have to approve the model agreements so Metro Connect can begin installing the necessary equipment.
The other document is a joint powers agreement to define the governance structure for the network, and how that governing entity will work with Metro Connect. "We're in the process of creating a new entity called the Wireless Silicon Valley Authority," Moura said. "That was an interesting decision. There were mixed feelings about it. We're also thinking we might set up a steering committee to work across the two groups to coordinate the whole project."
Wireless Silicon Valley is more than just a wireless broadband network, he said. In fact, Wi-Fi compatibility is secondary to what the network is designed to accomplish.
The network will be designed to test public safety applications that ride on specified network frequencies; backhaul technologies, whether fiber, microwave or optical fiber; and services for the private sector on higher network frequencies.
"Really the purpose of this is to provide not only regional broadband wireless coverage, but also to provide a technology platform for not only the cities and counties but also for residents, small businesses and venture capitalists," Moura said. "We're trying to address a lot of different markets here."
Photo by Lyle Krannichfeld
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