The Smart Community & the Future of Free Wi-Fi
THE QUESTION OF free Wi-Fi most often comes up in the context of travel — as tourists we want to be able to connect easily and for free from wherever we are. But with well over half the world owning a smartphone, every urban dweller wants to know they’ll be able to get the content and functionality they want from their smartphone wherever they are. These days, we aren’t just accessing data more often, we’re accessing more of it, more of the time, and the “always on” lifestyle requires a constant shroud of Wi-Fi coverage to follow us wherever we go.
Moreover, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), municipal wireless networks are becoming as much about a connected trash can as they are about the end user streaming YouTube on their smartphone. Beyond offering free Wi-Fi to citizens and tourists, the wireless networks of our cities will have to be robust enough to handle huge amounts of data on the one hand or many small yet secure bursts of bits-and-bytes of data on the other. Furthermore, some of the services and applications — like traffic control and power grid communications — will be considered “mission critical,” while others, like smart meter readings, are less time-sensitive. It’s critical, therefore, that the city’s wireless network be both flexible and scaled enough with respect to the different services and their respective needs.
Cities across the world are struggling to come up with a financially sustainable solution to providing reliable public Wi-Fi to meet these new demands, and many large urban and small rural communities have developed and implemented free Wi-Fi networks shrouding downtown areas, designed to make the experience more enjoyable for both tourists and residents. But these hotspots are often overlaid onto a third-party provider’s network because the municipality doesn’t have its own wide area network (WAN). Therefore the city/town has to rely on the provider to place hotspots where they have available infrastructure which mostly aren’t geographically comprehensive, and the connection provided is barely equipped to deal with the kind of traffic they are getting now, let alone the traffic we can expect to see in the coming years.
Instead of trying to build entirely new networks, cities, supported by their incumbent internet service providers and mobile carriers, are trying to leverage their networks to stand-up a community Wi-Fi network that uses the Wi-Fi routers inside of the homes of the incumbent provider’s customers.
The hope is that the incumbent provider will turn every home currently connected to the internet into a mini Wi-Fi hotspot serving the public, so that anytime a subscriber walked past a participating home network their phones would automatically connect to that Wi-Fi network, thereby lessening their own data charges and significantly reducing the strain on mobile carrier networks. All this is made possible by home subscribers giving up a small, likely unused, percentage of their Wi-Fi to make it available for public use.
Although this sounds promising, the reality is, most service providers are simply unwilling to allow free public access to their network. The objective is to charge any and everyone who access their network a fee to get to the internet, full stop. Since municipalities can’t afford to subsidize public access nor do they have any networks of their own, people who want access must be able to pay-to-play.
A2D is an open access carrier that is deploying fiber networks in both urban and rural communities. Because providers pay us to deliver their services to anyone connected to our network, we are not interested in trying to charge access to consumers. For us, it is all about the destination. We can either bring the provider to the consumer or the consumer to the provider. When developing our Smart City networks, it is our goal to work with municipal leaders to cost effectively overlay both a Wi-Fi public access network and a special purpose LTE network. The key difference between each network is as follows:
- A2D’s LTE network is designed to use license spectrum where only devices equipped with special configured SIM cards can have access to the network. A2D has three versions of its LTE network. 1) Smart City LTE; 2) Education Wide Area Network (EdWAN™) and 3) Telehealth LTE. Each network is designed to use A2D’s fiber backbone to establish a private, high-bandwidth connection. We believe that municipalities should not connect their infrastructure assets to any open wireless network such as Wi-Fi. Equipped with a laptop, hackers can easily bypass security protocols and take control over devices connected to Wi-Fi networks. Therefore Wi-Fi should always be regulated to Public access only.
- A2D’s Wi-Fi network is design to work directly with both our fiber network and our LTE network. As we deploy our fiber network throughout a community, we ensure we have multiple direct fiber connection points in order to create Wi-Fi hot spots in designated areas determined by our municipal partners. To ensure that free access does not compete with consumer access, Wi-Fi hotspots are typically limited to tourist districts, government centers, parks and recreational areas. In addition, Wi-Fi hotspots are typically shut off during afterhours when certain locations are closed to the public.
From a network topography standpoint, A2D establish custom VLAN’s that trap traffic routing from each Wi-Fi hotspot and separate it from traffic delivered to LTE nodes and systems. This way we are able to prioritize LTE traffic over Wi-Fi traffic across our infinitely scalable fiber network.
As a Smart City partner, A2D is able to help both urban and rural municipal leaders address the digital divide without blowing their fiscal budgets.
If you would like to learn more about how A2D can help your community implement a Smart City network complete with fiber and wireless connectivity, contact us directly at email@example.com