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Paying for a citywide shared wireless infrastructure

Robert Wu

Securing our cities in a post 9-11 environment -- characterized by terrorist actions, civil unrest and natural disasters -- has emerged as one of the biggest challenges facing security professionals around the world. Leading-edge technologies for citywide monitoring and collaboration are widely available to improve security, but progress has been slow.

A citywide security system monitoring critical infrastructure, high crime areas and public transit can provide first responders with the situational awareness made possible by high-quality video surveillance to quickly and effectively address incidents of a criminal or terrorist nature, while mass notification and telecollaboration capabilities can make it easy for first responders and public officials to share video and other information in an emergency for better decision-making.

Unfortunately, very few cities around the world have taken the leap. Cost is one reason, but just as challenging is the complexity of designing a system with multiple communication and security technologies from six, eight or 10 different vendors.

The latter challenge is being addressed by technology companies that are beginning to come together to offer customized, integrated solutions that no one company alone would be able to provide, while the revenue generating potential of the communication infrastructure required for such a system addresses the hurdle relating to cost.

The emergence and growing popularity of smartphones and iPads foretell a future of ubiquitous connectivity, but a 21st century communications network required to carry the ever-increasing volume of mobile traffic still eludes us. Urban-scale, high-bandwidth telecom grade wireless infrastructure is the solution, but no one has really figured out how to make it happen, cost effectively. Until now.

Forward thinking cities can deploy leading-edge technologies for the safety and security of their citizens in a post 9-11world and pay for it, in part or in whole by sharing and reselling access to their networking infrastructure, especially during non-emergency periods.

We know that basic infrastructure services such as sewer, water, electricity and roads are best provided by the public sector. The same could be said for high bandwidth wireless mobile connectivity.

The ancillary, public domain applications are diverse -- from tourism portals for visitors to the city, to location-based services. Picture it. It’s lunchtime. You pull out your smartphone and receive discount coupons for today’s specials at five restaurants within walking distance. Many consumers would be happy to pay an extra few dollars to have such a service. However, in times of emergency, priority access would be given to first responders who would receive the relevant video or data feeds they need.

This is where telecom grade Wi-Fi takes over from cellular technologies. With more and more smartphones and tablets in circulation, cellular networks will reach their limits. These systems can be enhanced, of course, but next generation LTE technologies and towers are expensive, and acquiring space for new towers can be challenging. Wi-Fi technologies are much more cost effective, and when the service provider can negotiate rights of way with a single entity that is also an anchor user, the prospect of deploying such a network is much more appealing.

A shared use Wi-Fi network is a viable model for a communications medium that keeps us safe, builds community and generates revenue. However, it will take visionary leadership to champion this model, inspire diverse stakeholders and be among the first cities in the world to deploy a leading-edge, citywide shared wireless infrastructure.

Robert Wu is the managing director of the Secure City Technology Alliance (SCTA). He can be reached at:

[email protected]




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