August 29, 2011
Chattanooga Rocks When It Comes to Broadband
Chattanooga, Tenn., is positioning itself as the most advanced city in the nation for wired and wireless broadband technology. The city utility, EPB, has recently completed a 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home network, offering a triple play of broadband services and using the network for a smart grid. (For more, see Chattanooga Leads The Charge For Fast Internet). But not content with that, the city is now creating a Wi-Fi mesh network and making plans for a long-term-evolution (LTE) network as well.
The wireless build-out is made possible through about $30 million in federal and state grants, on the condition that the technology primarily serve public safety needs and not compete with free-market operators.
EBP's fiber network serves as the backbone to provide wireless Internet speeds of up to 150 Mbps.
"We've got gig fiber to 178,000 homes, run to the house," said Mark Keil, chief information officer for the city of Chattanooga. "I have access to fiber almost anywhere in town."
The Wi-Fi mesh network is well underway, with more than 220 wireless routers already installed throughout the city. The plan calls for a total of 600 outdoor routers. The system communicates via the 802.11n wireless standard.
Since Chattanooga's fiber network is owned by the city utility, it isn't necessary to obtain any permissions to install the Motorola 7181 mess access points on city-owned light poles and EPB power poles.
Keil explained that a "mesh" network means all the Wi-Fi units are aware of each other. "It's self-healing," he said. "If one goes down, the network doesn't go down. For public safety, we need that reliability. I don't have a single point of failure on fiber or Wi-Fi."
But why stop with super-fast fiber and Wi-Fi?
"We have a request with Oak Ridge National Labs to get an FCC license for an LTE network for public safety," said Keil. "We can't afford to do mesh out to nine counties. LTE will be used instead of Wi-Fi mesh in less populated areas."
A big part of the $30 million in funding is earmarked for public safety applications. Chattanooga is working with police SWAT teams from other parts of the country and with the Department of Defense to trial applications. "Because we have all this fiber and wireless, a lot of people are coming to do tests," said Keil. "We don't have any concern as far as how much bandwidth you need."
Chattanooga has implemented a new application that scans crime scenes with a wireless laser. The 360-degree scan, which can cover an area the size of a football stadium, re-creates a crime scene with a billion points of data. Rather than sending ten detectives to the scene to record, measure and photograph, often taking several days, the scanner digitizes the scene in 10 minutes.
The city is also using its Wi-Fi network for intelligent traffic management. Wireless sensors and cameras mounted on traffic lights or in the road surface measure traffic speeds and patterns and adjust lights based on current conditions.
Even though the citizens of Chattanooga are spoiled with 1 Gig fiber for their wired Internet speeds, they don't yet have access to the Wi-Fi mesh network. The city isn't permitted under the terms of its grants to sell wireless services. But at a later date, it may put out a request for proposal (RFP) for an operator to resell the services.
However, the city can offer free public wireless and is exploring some funding models to do that.
"Mesh is very geographically aware," said Keil. "We're going to test tourist areas downtown and offer advertising to local vendors. If you connect to the mesh, you'll see the ads. That's one idea to help fund putting it into neighborhoods."