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Evolution of Municipal Wireless Networks

This paper examines the evolution of citywide broadband wireless networks.

Public safety networks owned and operated by municipalities drove the early municipal wireless market. Police, fire departments, and other emergency responders have been using cellular data networks for their mobile communications needs. Cellular carriers are phasing out cellular digital packet data (CDPD) and moving to broadband cellular data services, and mobile applications for emergency responders are shifting from text-based to multimedia. These changes have led some cities to consider building their own wireless network in an unlicensed band, rather than paying monthly fees to a cellular carrier for each of their mobile users.

For smaller towns with manageable terrain, wireless mesh networks operating in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz band proved to be a cost-effective solution. The early networks included proprietary client mesh capability that allowed mobile emergency responder teams to form instant networks in the field, communicate with each other, and connect to headquarters. A slight modification to make these networks support standard Wi-Fi clients opened up many other possible municipal wireless applications. In these scenarios, the wireless mesh is still used to interconnect nodes in the infrastructure, but the client devices are standard Wi-Fi and do not participate in the mesh.

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