Firms Team to Build Voice-Capable Municipal WLAN

By Ted Stevenson | Nov 18, 2005 | Print this Page
http://www.enterprisenetworkingplanet.com/unified_communications/Firms-Team-to-Build-Voice-Capable-Municipal-WLAN-3565366.htm

Two Ontario-based companies earlier this week announced the fruition of a two year collaboration: a municipal Wi-Fi network with robust VoIP capabilities.

Telecom operator Atria Networks and Wi-Fi infrastructure vendor BelAir Networks announced the launch of a Wi-Fi cloud covering the core downtown section of high-tech center Waterloo, Ontario.

The deployment uses BelAir's wireless mesh networking gear—specifically nearly 30 BelAir100 and BelAir200 dual- and multi-radio wireless mesh switches—to blanket almost one square mile of the city's center.

Atria Networks, a community-owned telecommunications company—with an extensive fiber network in the Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph area west of Toronto—installed and will maintain and operate the network.

According to Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing for BelAir, Atria's plan deployed BelAir's gear "in a very high-capacity way." "They're anticipating a lot of demand for the service," Belanger told VoIPplanet.com. "They designed it in such a way that they can provide a good quality of service, including voice. That was one of the requirements," he said.

Steven McCartney, Atria's president and CEO, echoed this thought. "This deployment was really the last phase of nearly two years of work, making sure that we're comfortable with what will work, how it will work, what it'll cost." They took the time necessary "to test mobility—the ability to roam between APs, to hand off calls from one Wi-Fi access point to another," McCartney said. "We also needed to get a sense of how much throughput was consistently generated and our ability to provide some QoS and some VLAN support."

So, Waterloo's Up Town Wi-Fi cloud is phone-ready, but is phone service actively available? Herein lies a tale.

As things now stand, the municipal WLAN will support telephony that originates or terminates with the local area network of any customer company—with the muni network acting as an extension of that LAN.

"Research In Motion is headquartered in our territory here," McCartney told VoIPplanet.com, "and they were kind enough to join us at the launch and demonstrate that one of their Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerries could, in fact, receive calls off the corporate local [LAN] through the network."

RIM's BlackBerry is the only device they've tried so far, but McCartney expects it to be the first of many. The BlackBerry is an advantageous platform, McCartney pointed out, since it has built-in security.

As for clients who want to have a separate mobile phone number assigned to a particular handheld device, that's currently up in the air, according to McCartney

"A choice we're still pondering is whether we want in fact to be the phone service provider," McCartney explained. "Recent regulatory in Canada suggests that if you're going to be a primary service provider, you're going to be a registered CLEC. We've spent the last few months determining whether we want to go that route. Or do we want to work with a CLEC and utilize their services through this network?" Atria expects to reach a final decision on this issue next month. "If we do decide to go ahead, we'd be targeting the summer of 2006," McCartney said.

Who is expected chat over Waterloo's municipal WLAN? According to Steven McCartney, most likely the heaviest users will be governmental employees. "We have two levels of municipal government operating in Waterloo—regional and the city itself—and at both levels they're very interested in this service. They're the folks that seem to be the most keen on [voice] being part of the package. Either we provide the voice service, or they themselves will just extend the local [LAN] through VoIP," McCartney told VoIPplanet.com.

Again, which of those scenarios eventually plays out won't be clear until December, but some enterprising customers may already be using Waterloo's Wi-Fi cloud for mobile calling.