WiFi Reality and Shortfall Check: Nov. 2009
November 21, 2009, 9:47 PM
Filed under: WiFi

November 21, 2009

Pioneering is often worth the effort but is not without disaster along the way. Hollywood’s complex citywide WiFi project falls in this category. We hope that despite the setbacks, it can be made to work as promised. Over a year and a half ago, the City Commission approved a 15-year $15.9 million WiFi contract between the City and Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI). Fortunately, this agreement guarantees that by utilizing WiFi, the City will save money (specific dollar amounts to be saved in each of the 15 years). If the City does not achieve the specified annual savings, JCI must make up the difference.

The WiFi project has three components

1. Dual Band Wi-Fi Network covering 95% of the City – to provide a secure network for police communications, eliminating the need to purchase Verizon cards, plus a free outdoor network for residents, businesses, and visitors, eliminating cost of CRA’s beach Wi-Fi.
2. Automated Water Meters – to be read via WiFi, saving the cost of hiring meter reading personnel, eliminating estimated readings, enabling enhanced leak detection and repair.
3. Solar-Powered Parking Meters – to be read via WiFi, saving the cost of hiring meter reading personnel, enhancing revenue collection, reducing carbon emissions.

Right off the bat, in Year 1, we have a major shortfall, according to City Information Technology Director John Barletta’s Nov. 4 presentation to the City Commission. Although the entire project was to have been completed this month, each of the three components (described in the adjoining box) is functioning either not at all or poorly.

Network Problems

Delays arose from an incorrect software installation and a design flaw. But more problematic, to be successful, the network has to cover 95% of the city. And JCI has been unable to install the network in the following places for a variety of reasons (lack of suitable FPL poles, dense tree canopy, etc.):

  • All gated communities
  • Oakwood Mall
  • Port 95 Commerce Park
  • Carriage Hills

With this lack of coverage, the police cannot rely on the network and must retain their Verizon cards (savings of $295,200 not yet realized).

Automated Water Meters

The contract calls for replacement of over 39,000 water meters by the end of this month. Only about 11,000 meters had been installed by the first week in November. JCI has hired additional crews and the new completion date is the end of March 2010. (savings of $579,855 not yet realized).

Parking Meters

The meters are installed but the City has received many complaints. They are not user-friendly, the bill inserter is too low, the screen is hard to read, the instructions are too complicated, and credit card payments have not been properly processed, causing some users to incur bank fees for overdrawn accounts. The City is working to resolve all of these problems. (savings of $368,822 not yet realized).

Shortfall Check

The first-year savings for the three components should have been $1,243,877 according to the JCI contract. Mr. Barletta said the City will be sitting down with JCI before the end of the year to finalize the amount of the “shortfall check” JCI is to pay the City.

What we have here according to Mr. Barletta is “a very large and complex system — the largest Motorola dual mesh network — over 700 Access Points and 9 Backhaul sites.” WiFi rollouts in other cities have not gone smoothly and obviously neither has ours. Mr. Barletta said he has learned a lot and so has JCI. The bright side (if there is one) in all this mess is that the risk of failure falls on JCI, not the City. How soon all the bugs can be worked out and how willing JCI will be to write the big shortfall check in December are open questions right now.

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