Government Technology

Tempe, Arizona: First U.S. Citywide Public Access Wi-Fi

December 1, 2006 By

audio Click here for audio of interview with David Heck, Deputy CIO of Tempe.

The city of Tempe boasts the largest ubiquitous border-to-border high-speed broadband network in North America (40 square miles) that provides Wi-Fi access to residents and the business community as well as to its municipal workforce.

The network, dubbed WAZ Tempe, is the result of an initiative that unofficially began three years ago when Deputy CIO David Heck and others approached Tempe City Council and raised the possibility of providing wireless Internet service in the city's downtown area as a economic development stimulus and a means to give greater access to Arizona State University (ASU) resources.

"We looked at several different models as to how we could bring that into our community," explained Heck. "One was that the city could actually deploy the network, but we felt that was a little cost prohibitive. And as well, the city didn't really want to take on the maintenance and customer service headaches that this would bring."

So instead they decided to leverage the assets the city had -- primarily its street light poles on every street in the city to mount antennas -- to entice a company to deploy and provide Wi-Fi service for a fee to residents that would be in competition with other local cable and DSL broadband providers.

The city first issued a Request for Information, followed with a formal RFP. The result was that the city received several bids and on April 21, 2005 Tempe City Council voted to award a 5-year contract for city-wide wireless broadband services to MobilePro Corporation out of Bethesda, MD. MobilePro partnered with StrixSystems and Pronto Networks to build and support the wireless network.

The company began deployment in September 2005, and opened the network for service in March 2006. Since it's completion, the neighboring cities of Chandler, AZ and Gilbert, AZ have also signed agreements with MobilePro to deploy a wireless network in their communities. Upon completion of these cities, expected in 2007, the WAZ wireless network will have a 187 square mile footprint.

A StrixSystems access point mounted on a street light pole.

Win-Win Contract Terms

In securing the deal, Tempe brought to the table not only free use of the city street light infrastructure, but also their existing fiber backhaul locations for Mobile Pro to deploy its network. In return, the city negotiated a number of free benefits to serve citizens better.

"One of these was that we would have about a 2 square mile zone in our downtown area where people would have free unlimited access for two hours," explained Heck. "And then after that 2 hour period, if someone wants to continue, they can pay by the hour. We also asked that and ASU domains and all sub-domains below them would be free access from anywhere in the network. So citizens wouldn't have to subscribe to get services from or"

Free access to city web sites was seen as the catalyst to jump-start e-government for Tempe as well as a way to streamline city services.

Additionally, the agreement with MobilePro allowed for the creation of a municipal network deployed on the same infrastructure as the public network. This second, "virtual" network was to be used by municipal workers -- police, fire, water, traffic and development services personnel -- to enhance their ability to provide services in the community. So every police officer, patrol car

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