Breathing new life into wireless cities

Self-sustaining business models are the key to unlocking wireless city potential From USA Today: “Plans to blanket cities across the nation with low-cost or free wireless internet access are being delayed or abandoned because they are proving to be too costly and complicated. Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities are putting proposed WiFi networks on hold.”
In the US and increasingly in the UK, the early promise of WiFi networks providing free internet access in city centres has yet to live up to its hype.  Howard Williams, Business Development Manager for Arqiva argues that in the UK this is due to unsustainable funding models and the difficulties faced by Local Authorities in developing long-term business plans for their networks.
To date, the primary aim of many wireless cities has simply been to explore the benefits of providing free public and Local Authority access to the internet, funded by development agencies, the government, or private bodies.  However, while funding is available for the initial deployment of wireless city projects, in many cases it is not ongoing and Local Authorities need to develop ways to develop a self-sustaining network.

Paying its own way
On the whole, initial funding is a useful way to initiate and experiment with wireless networks. However, we need to move onto the next stage.  Sustainable wireless network business models have the potential to form a “third utility”; an essential part of the Cities digital infrastructure, enabling authorities to reduce operational costs, increase revenues and provide broadband services to individuals previously excluded from internet access.

Generating cost savings
To survive, wireless networks need to create cost-savings and generate profits that can be re-invested back into the system.  Other fixed line applications and services can be migrated onto the wireless network, utilising the much lower connectivity cost that WiFi allows.

For example, payment systems for public facilities such as parking can be made more efficient when operated over a wireless network.  Work is being undertaken by a number of Local Authorities to develop and trial IP wireless-enabled applications to support a parking strategy, including wireless connectivity for parking meters.
In its entirety, a system of this type could bring significant cost savings to the council. Part of these savings would be established by allowing users to buy tickets via their mobiles and PDAs, thus eliminating cash and the need to manage and monitor meters.
Services such as waste management can also be improved. Currently councils have to use mobile manpower to monitor if bins are full. By using RFID tagging, councils can remotely identify if a bin is full and send the closest vehicle to empty it straight away.
Furthermore, existing services such as CCTV can be run more efficiently and effectively by utilising the wireless network. In many cities, CCTV and noise monitoring schemes utilise the much lower cost backhaul bandwidth available from WiFi.  

Generating extra revenue
A self-sustaining wireless city means taking advantage of all potential revenue streams. The most obvious way to do this is to charge consumers and businesses in certain areas a fee or subscription to use the wireless network. In addition, other business benefits already mentioned can be made available to private companies through a payment to the Local Authority.

A key layer
Each proposed wireless city opportunity will have different priorities in terms of council, business and public needs, but all have the potential to help drive urban regeneration, facilitate social inclusion and education services, as well as attracting businesses and visitors into city centres - becoming a key layer in Local Authorities' business processes.
Wireless cities are a vital component in the local government of the future and for their survival Local Authorities need to run the networks to a sustainable business model.  It is paramount that Local Authorities breathe new life into their networks by seizing the opportunities that they can provide to generate cost savings, create operational efficiencies and provide an enhanced environment for business growth and the cities’ citizens and visitors.
Arqiva’s proposition is based on a solid partnership with councils – growth and development of the network is achieved by the councils’ continued reinvestment of a portion of the savings and generated revenues secured.  
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