Corpus Christi pushes envelope with municipal wireless

Originally designed to help with smart-meter applications, the 147-square-mile wireless mesh network has evolved to help with public safety.

The city of Corpus Christi, which has already created one of the biggest automated meter-reading projects in the United States (if not THE biggest), is now building public safety applications off that same infrastructure.

The reason is pretty simple: the meter reading applications consume just 10 percent of the smart grid network's bandwidth, according to John Sendejar, business unit manager for IT services and external relations with the Corpus Christi Digital Community Development Corp. (CCDCDC) The network uses wireless mesh technology from Tropos Networks, which has a focus on municipal wireless networks.

Why wouldn't you use that bandwidth for something else useful?

First, some background. Corpus Christi supports THE largest municipal wireless networks in the state of Texas, a 147-square-mile infrastructure that is second only to the network in Oklahoma City. It originally put the network in place with Earthlink but when that company got out of this business, the city created CCDCDC to continue developing applications. The entire bay front and marina, for example, is a hot spot, which will seem more important a little later in this article. In total, Sendejar says there are 30 public hot spots throughout the city; there were 33,000 users sessions in the past 30 days, so people (local residents AND tourists) are finding and using those hot spots to connect to the Internet.

Sendejar says the network was originally designed to bring service to the home, which means it is quite robust with 16 to 18 access points per square mile. Currently, the network supports the automated reading of approximately 135,000 water and gas meters and more will be added before the end of 2010. But, he says, the meter reading uses only a fraction of the bandwidth. So for about eight months now, Corpus Christi has been rolling out public safety applications by adding video surveillance cameras.

"We worked with the police department to target areas of public concern," he says.

That included six cameras along the bay front that were designed to record activity on a 24 x 7 basis. Stuff like traffic (vehicular and pedestrian). But at the end of June, when Hurricane Alex was brewing in the Gulf, the city realized the cameras could be used for another purpose: to track the progress of the hurricane.

"We were able to give the emergency operations center six live video feeds," Sendejar says. Even though for Corpus Christi, the hurricane was a non-factor, the drill set planning for future applications in motion -- and for a serious expansion of the number of cameras on the network. Currently, there are 30 cameras throughout the city, but Sendejar says the local government plans to bring this total up to 150.

Not every smart grid network can support applications this robust, perhaps, but why limit yourself to an infrastructure that supports just one application? Keep an eye on Corpus Christi for other smart applications in the months to come.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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