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How-to Wi-Fi your city (in 10 steps)


Wi-Fi must not be the best wireless broadband protocol ever, but it’s the most accesible and used. Ever.

Okay. So you work for a city, directly or indirectly, and wonder what it takes to create a consistent, sustainable public Wi-Fi network in your place. You have the responsibility to do it or to promote it. You might also think that access to broadband should be a basic right. Yes. We are on the same track, so enough of talking. Let’s get to work.

Step 1) What for? Think about the main use of the Wi-Fi network: public wireless internet, public services in mobility, tourism, social broadband… Draft your main areas of coverage with this driver in mind.

Step 2) How much? Build a draft of the business model. Possible sources of income (retail, wholesale, internal communication savings, ads,…), CAPEX (roughly 4 KEUR to 7 KEUR  per access point, depending on the technology chosen and on the amount of optical fiber required), OPEX (from 2% to 5 % of the overall CAPEX per year). If you have other figures, please post a comment. We are learning.

Step 3) How exactly? The quicker you fail, the better. Select an area where deployment is easy (a new urban development, for instance) or where traffic of users is guaranteed if your driver is public internet (city historical downtown is normally your first target, it helps to get political support). Spend a limited amount of cash, test your main processes (deploying, operations, monitoring, network optimization…), build internal alliances. Learn. Adjust.

Step 4) Get funding for your ‘BIG’ deployment. Do you live in a continent where public bodies still build new things? Then you will probably be able to find the appropriate financing program. If not, check if your model supports a PPP model (most likely if your main driver is wholesale broadband, still possible if it is public social internet, and really difficult if you want to use the network for public services or servants, but not impossible)

Step 5) Public bid. Make sure you conduct a succesful RFP / RFQ process. Talk to the market first. Plan your architecture (centralised, meshed, decentralized), your NOC, your transmission network, your roll-out constraints. Don’t let idealism spoil a good project.  Make sure you’ll have several companies interested. Publish. Evaluate offers. Good luck.

Step 6) Participation. Now you have the power. You are buying 50, 100, 200, 500 WiFi hotspots. You are at the top. Danger. Time to talk to your stakeholders and co-decide: districts, kidstourism department,… Treat them right. Be honest and sincere. They are your support.

Step 7) Roll-out. Probably you did this in your previous life a couple (or a hundred) times. Be flexible. Build a team. Lead. Delegate. Cities are complex, lots of small kingdoms that were there before you and will continue after you. It’s not such a bad thing. Things work that way.

Step 8) Operation. You might not have staff for operating a new network, plus dealing with support, customer care,… You might face regulatory issues. You may want that the network pays-off in the long term. Then you need to find a service provider to operate the network and run the service. Another public bid.

Step 9) Power ‘ON’. There you go. Every piece of the puzzle is in its place. Network. Service. Users. Traffic.

Step 10) Boost innovation. You did just the beginning: infrastructure. A Wi-Fi network or service that (hopefully) powers itself. Well done. Now it’s the difficult part. Find the role of the network in the city innovation ecosystem: opendata, eAdmin, start-up incubators, creative industries. How does it all mix? You only have intuitions, rough ideas. You wouldn’t be able to write that howto yet.

A last info: we did it. In Zaragoza we created the densest public Wi-Fi network in Europe. You can find more of it in Anthony Townsend’s great book “Smart Cities”.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka via Unsplash

Article published under Creative Commons free culture license. Some rights reserved.

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Tags: , , , , , Last modified: 19/11/2022