Silicon Valley will get a homegrown Wi-Fi network from Cisco Systems to provide Internet access in metropolitan areas spread across about 1,500 square miles.
The Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force chose a group led by Cisco and IBM to build and operate the network, which will cover areas between the southern border of San Francisco and Santa Cruz, and from the Pacific inland to the opposite side of San Francisco Bay. Cisco will provide the infrastructure, and IBM will be the master system integrator for the project. Their team, called Silicon Valley Metro Connect, also includes Azulstar Networks, which will be the service provider operating the network, and SeaKay, a nonprofit that will help get disadvantaged residents online.
As municipalities around the world jump on the public Wi-Fi bandwagon, the Silicon Valley project takes a high profile because of both its location in a legendary high-tech region and its sheer size. Although Silicon Valley Metro Connect’s current plans wouldn’t cover the entire region, large parts of which are lightly populated or undeveloped, the project has gotten sign-in from 42 municipalities. A notable exception is Mountain View, which has its own city Wi-Fi network provided by hometown giant Google.
Silicon Valley Metro Connect is now entering into negotiations with the task force, said Alan Cohen, senior director of mobility solutions at Cisco. There will probably be a wide variety of services and business models, including paid service, free Internet access and use of the network by government agencies, he said. The first parts of the network should be up and running in the fourth quarter, Cohen said, but he described the whole project as a “multi-year effort.” The offering will focus initially on outdoor coverage in populated areas of cities, though some users may be able to reach the network from indoors.
The company envisions a network that uses 802.11b/g to connect with users’ notebook PCs and other devices and 802.11a, with directional antennas, for meshed backhaul links to wired networks. It will use a wireless LAN switch model with lightweight access points that are centrally controlled. Wider-range WiMax technology could come into play later, Cohen said.
Cisco, IBM and SeaKay also were behind a proposal for San Francisco’s planned Wi-Fi network. There, they lost out to Google and EarthLink in April, but the group said it would compete for municipal wireless projects around the country under the Metro Connect banner.
-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)
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