...is accepting sealed proposals from companies interested in supplying equipment for its proposed wireless service.This makes good sense on its own. LUS is running a complex multi-headed business focused on businesses which require truck rolls and remote meter-reading. Getting out from under the connectivity charges of the majors and doing it yourself is the route that a number of such utilities have taken. (It's a route that municipalities have taken as well; our EMS system, for instance, has an independent wireless network.) One of the dirty little secrets of the American telecom system is that it is much, much cheaper for even small operations to own their own networks if they can get hold of the airwaves to do it.--That should be proof that the big guys are seriously overcharging since there should be huge economies of scale in building and maintaining telecom networks.
Lafayette Utility Services is in Phase 1 of a wireless network project that will allow LUS field crews to upload and update customer information and other data without returning to the office.
But, of course, the good business sense this move shows is not the immediate interest for most readers of this blog: reading the tea leaves about a much-speculated-on wireless network to piggy-back on top of the city's in-limbo fiber optic network is what most of us will be interested in.
And there is an historical pattern here that would lead anyone who has closely followed the path of the city's fiber optic development to wonder. Lafayette's fiber-optics hopes were substantially aided by the fact that LUS had already built a set of fiber-optic loops around the city connecting its electrical substations that proved its competence and provided a substantial in-place backbone to build on. Like wireless networks for EMS building a fiber-optic network to support load-balancing and other issues is something that forward-looking electrical utitlities have been doing pretty widely. What made LUS' network a little different was that it had a very large capacity. Putting in more strands of fiber optics than you need while laying down the network made sense. Very little of the expense was in glass cables themselves. Almost all of the cost was in the construction and electronics necessary to make the glass useful.
Putting in extra capacity to expand was almost free and making sure that there as plenty of available capacity just made sense. For one thing, having the extra capacity made it possible to offer to wholesale bandwidth to resellers--something that it was hoped would both help pay for the network and would serve as an additional incentive to local development. (That's worked out pretty well even if the hopes that someone would resell to the public, an idea LUS encouraged, were never realized.)
But the extra capacity also made a lot of sense to the incumbent telecom providers in Lafayette. Both Cox and BellSouth opposed Lafayette building that backbone with Cox making its objections at city council meetings and BellSouth withdrawing from the local chamber over the issue. That opposition was a preview of what the community could expect during the fiber fight. Few in government or the utility were surprised at the depth of opposition to municipal fiber the incumbents showed. That, it was clear, was what they most feared from the beginning.
So if we want to learn from history we will pay close attention to the details of the Request For Proposals (RFP) that LUS uses to define its project. Some questions to ask:
- Does it include a very strong backbone "supply" element?
- Are upgrade "hooks" part of the proposed deal?
- Does it assume ubiquitous fiber?
- Does it use owned spectrum for local backhaul? Or open? Or fiber?
- Does it use open spectrum for the final connection?
- What technologies are specified....WiFi, WiMax, etc...?
- What applications are supported; either explicitly or through the specification of indicative standards?
For my money Lafayette should have a wireless network built on and integrated into our prospective fiber network. LUS is the place where this integration can happen. It's looking good folks.