Network provider Alvarion announced Tuesday, March 29, the official launch of Houston’s 4G wireless broadband municipal network.

Although not fully completed, the new wireless network will ultimately enable remote control of 2,500 traffic intersections and 1,500 school zone flashers, allow remote monitoring of more than 150,000 water meter accounts and provide 300,000 residents in underserved communities with free Internet service from excess bandwidth.

In partial operation for more than a year, the network started as a small pilot program between Houston and Alvarion, utilizing the company’s BreezeMAX Extreme 3650 WiMAX 16e solution on a few towers and locations. Some applications such as pay parking stations and automated meter reading were tested on the wireless network. Once the city deemed them successful, the project began in earnest.

Houston’s 4G network, which can reach download speeds of up to 80 Mbps depending on configuration settings, is now spread over 60 towers, each providing a two-mile coverage footprint. In a briefing yesterday, Brian Anderson, senior consultant and program director of the city of Houston Wireless Broadband Initiative, revealed that Houston received $5 million in grants and will use $1.4 million in capital funds to pay for the project.

Prior to the collaboration with Alvarion, Houston had worked with EarthLink on a Wi-Fi municipal network until 2007. But the company fled the municipal Wi-Fi business, canceling the project and paying the city a $5 million penalty.

Before the wireless network with Alvarion came online, the city had to send people to manually make changes to traffic lights and school flashers. And while Houston did have a wireless network created for its water meter readings, trucks still had to go out to capture the signals being generated by the equipment. Now all of that data can be retrieved remotely from one location, saving both time and money.

“We realized the most cost-effective way to introduce a citywide network was to go with a high-performance wireless solution that … can be easily and remotely managed to reduce operational costs,” said Anderson, in a statement. “This way, we can gradually roll out advanced residential services … without necessarily raising the cost of living.”

Raja Gopal, Alvarion’s marketing director for North America, added that the wireless network can also make communication between the city and residents easier.

“[For example], if there are meter-reading issues, the people in the water department can have access to [data from] 30-minute billing intervals, rather then sending someone onsite to check the dispute out,” Gopal said. “They can do it remotely.”

The project has already caught the eye of telecom professionals. Houston’s broadband wireless network was named “Community Broadband Wireless Network of the Year” in 2010 by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Despite the honor, Houston isn’t sitting on its laurels. Plans are in the works to expand usage of the network. Approximately 400 water utility locations have been indentified to be included on the network, which will cover an area of roughly 640 square miles and further increase the city’s efficiency.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.