Cisco, IBM are winners in Silicon Valley Wi-Fi mesh

Cisco, IBM and two partners have been awarded the contract to build a public 802.11-based wireless mesh that is intended to blanket most of the Silicon Valley peninsula of California, some 1,500 square miles.

The contract is huge win for Cisco. The final network will have tens of thousands of wireless mesh access points, potentially offering access to 2.4 million residents in 42 peninsula communities. Cisco currently offers the Cisco 1500 dual-radio mesh product, first introduced about a year ago.

Cisco and IBM joined with Azulstar Networks, a Michigan municipal wireless networking company founded in 2002, and with SeaKay, a California non-profit group that organizes the use of digital technologies to improve social services in underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The quartet created a joint venture called Silicon Valley Metro Connect.

The venture now will start detailed contract negotiations, with an eye to starting the network rollout sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Alan Cohen, senior director, Cisco Mobility Solutions. Cohen said the network ultimately will support a menu of residential and business services, including voice and video in addition to data, distinguished by bandwidth and security. The network will also be the infrastructure for dedicated services to public safety, healthcare, and other municipal departments.

IBM will act as the network designer and integrator; Azulstar will be the network operator and provisioner; and SeaKay will work with the municipal governments and other public agencies to adapt the network to the requirements of these groups, as part of a program to equip lower-income populations with the tools and expertise to make use of wireless Internet access.

The partnership will offer up to 1Mbps as a free base service, with an array of privacy protections. Wireless VoIP and video streaming will be fee-based services. In 2007, the partnership plans to deploy IEEE 802.16 WiMAX base stations for fixed and mobile wireless broadband users.

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