by Stephen Lawson

Wireless Networking: Silicon Valley, Unwired

Apr 01, 20063 mins

The region that spawned the microprocessor and helped wire the world now wants to unwire itself.

A coalition of local government officials and businesses including Intel wants to set up outdoor wireless Internet access over a broad area around Silicon Valley. The proposed network, which would cover about 1,500 square miles, is envisioned for many purposes, including improving government services, attracting conventions and business, and helping residents get Internet access, according to Richard Ajluni, director of external relations for the group spearheading the project, which calls itself Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network.

The proposal is also backed by the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority (Samcat), a regional body for telecommunications and cable TV policy that represents 17 cities south of San Francisco in San Mateo County.

In addition, Santa Clara County and the cities of Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz will make financial contributions and participate in the project. The coalition is seeking participation and funding from 26 other cities and counties in the area.

A working group created for the project, Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force, has chosen Intel to develop an RFP to build the network. Intel was expected to finish collecting data by the end of March, and the RFP is expected to be issued in a couple of months. Intel’s Solutions Services division will donate consulting services to the project, as it has for Portland, Ore., and other cities. Intel won’t respond to the RFP as a vendor, according to Ajluni.

The RFP won’t prescribe a particular technology or business model, leaving the field open for a variety of respondents to propose different solutions, he says.

Municipal wireless networks are drawing widespread interest among local governments, as well as opposition from some vendors that say governments shouldn’t get into the network business. (To learn more about the controversy, read “Wi-Fight,” Page 50.)

Based on participation in the coalition so far, areas covered by the network would extend from Daly City, just south of San Francisco (which is planning its own public wireless network), south to Gilroy and Santa Cruz, and from Pacifica on the Pacific coast to Newark, on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

An intercity wireless network would enable city workers and other professionals to get Internet access while on the road and may also bring indoor broadband service to some parts of the region for the first time, says Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos and chairman of Samcat. The network could help police monitor crime scenes, emergency crews download medical records and government agencies monitor infrastructure such as flood control, Ajluni says.

The high-tech region has the opposite problem from many municipalities, according to Moura: Too many wireless startups have proposed networks in the area to show off their technology, he says. “Having a structured process like this will give us a better way to evaluate those proposals and decide which one is best for our community,” Moura says.