City-wide wireless network spending to surpass $6bn by 2012

The next five years will witness an explosion in the number of municipal wireless networks being deployed in the UK and US, with spending reaching $6.4 billion during this timeframe, according to research published this week by Datamonitor.

Many cities in the UK are already dabbling with the idea of offering city-wide wireless web access, with some already pressing full steam ahead with trial, but this is still in the 'embryonic stages,' claims the analyst, whose report entitled 'The Future of Municipal Wireless Networks' suggests that current spend on such networks totals $900 million.

Today, Datamonitor believes that there are around 400 cities in the UK and US with fingers in the municipal network pie. However, between now and 2012, as local governments and internet service providers start to become more tuned in to the benefits on offer - such as free wireless broadband, access to real-time emergency services information, lower communications costs and being perceived as a cutting-edge city - the number of networks being built will start to grow.

"Faced with strained budget resources, waning workforces, demand for more personalised constituents service and greater threats to public safety, local governments are looking for new ways to increase efficiency while also providing more and better services, said Kate McCurdy, Datamonitor's government technology analyst and author of the report.

"An innovative solution to this challenge is 'municipal' wireless networks. By deploying wireless networks from street lights and lamp posts around a community, local governments provide citizens, businesses and public employees with low-cost - or even free - ubiquitous internet connectivity while outdoors.... These networks will only be successful if citizens and government employees use them, and that usage will be driven by the applications that reside on the networks."

The objectives behind the impending network boom are varied, ranging from wanting to arm mobile workers with better communication tools to opening up service access to less advantaged citizens. Similarly, the strategies behind deployment differ, too.

"A public-private partnership business model is attractive to both local governments and service providers because it allows each to focus on its core competencies - serving constituents and providing internet service," added McCurdy.

"The most successful dynamics go one step further, however, and make the local government the 'anchor tenant' on the network," she added, suggesting that cities wishing to be successful with municipal network deployments need to be on the look out for a 'killer application' that will create new channels for business and community interaction and draw users to the new infrastructure.

She said: "The killer app may be video surveillance or automatic meter reading or something we haven't considered yet. But once identified, it will push municipal wireless over the tipping point."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.