Citywide Wireless Network – Corpus Christi, TX

  • Population:  287,290
  • Area: 147 square miles
  • Municipal Utilities: water, gas
  • Network Type: Citywide wireless mesh with fiber and wireless backhaul
  • Model: Municipally owned, privately operated, open access for retail service providers

CorpusChristi did not set out to create a citywide wireless network. Theproject arose as a logical extension of the upgrade to wirelessautomated meter reading for the city’s gas and water utilities.

In2002, the City was facing a large investment in updating its meterreading capabilities, and was actively considering privatizing itsmunicipal utilities. It was still utilizing meter readers who walkeddoor to door, a risky job with high turnover. If they couldn’t get intoa yard for any reason, they would skip the house, which was the sourceof inaccuracies. Also, the once-monthly monitoring meant system leakswere not quickly recognized and repaired.

The Citycompared the cost-per-read of its current walking system, a drive-bysystem, and a fully wireless automated meter reading (AMR) system.Despite the relatively high upfront cost of the wireless system ($17.8million for 146,000 meters), it found the cost savings of $32 millionover the 20-year life of the wireless system, an average $1.6 millionannually.

During the AMR pilot phase, it becameapparent that Wi-Fi was a logical add-on. The AMR system uses only asmall amount of the system’s capacity, and only twice daily. Adding aWi-Fi network for municipal and public use would cost about $6 million.

TheAMR pilot was expanded to include a Wi-Fi pilot area. Currentinstallation is 300 access points covering about 19 square miles,including about 6 miles out into the bay area. The pilot project costaround $1 million. In February 2006, the city began the process ofinstalling 1600 new access points (upgrading the old ones from 802.11bto 802.11g), each about one-eighth mile apart. Right now workers areadding about one square mile daily, and the entire 147 square miles ofthe city will be covered by Fall 2006.

The City isusing 70 miles of fiber optics connecting its traffic signals as localbackhaul, and Alvarion pre-WiMAX in areas not served by the municipalfiber network.

The total cost of the Wi-Fi networkwill be around $7.1 million. Annual operating costs include $100,000 inlight pole attachment fees (around $62 per pole, per year). The cityexpects to get a full return on investment in four years.

Thenetwork is separated into multiple virtual local area networks (VLANs)– one for public safety, one for municipal services, and one forresidents and visitors. The network supports the use of corporatevirtual private network (VPN) clients, allowing city employees secureaccess to the municipal information system.

The cityalready uses its Wi-Fi network to dispatch police cars, replacing the800 MHz wireless network. It is working with local hospitals to connectfirst responders via video to emergency room doctors.

Thenetwork is entirely funded by the city. The city formed a non-profitcorporation, called Corpus Christi Digital Community, which will sellwholesale capacity to private service providers to provide a range offor-fee services to residents and businesses. The city itself will paythe non-profit $2.5 million annually for network services – includingphone, Internet access, and maintenance of the wireless and Afive-member board will assist the City Council in governing thenon-profit.

Right now, public access to the network isfree. Plans are underway to partner with private Internet serviceproviders to provide a range of for-fee services to residents andbusinesses.

The network has become a tool for economicdevelopment in surprising ways. For example, the city has created adirectory of local businesses that is currently available through thefree service and will eventually be part of the free walled garden. Alot of local businesses didn’t know that other local businessesexisted, so they ordered things from elsewhere without knowing theycould buy it locally. The amount of business done between localbusinesses has increased.

The investment is alreadypaying off in more accurate system monitoring, allowing theidentification and repair of leaks before they become a problem.Account service calls dropped 30 percent from during September -November 2005 compared to the same period in 2003. Use of the networkby building inspectors has cut 6 weeks out of the time to build a house.

“Welook at it the same as we do water, sewers, gas and the road system,”says Leonard Scott, business unit manager of the City’s managementinformation systems department. “It’s there for the general public’suse. We think it’s very important that the city have ownership andcontrol of the system.”

More information:

  • Corpus Christi WiFi – The City’s web site for the project
  • Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband – A New America Foundation event, with remarks by Leonard Scott from the City of Corpus Christi