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Province of Brescia Goes Broadband: No Strings Attached, Thanks to Cisco Outdoor Wireless Solutions

(PresseBox) (Hallbergmoos, ) The Italian Province of Brescia has found a radical way to deliver broadband to small mountain villages and across all of its territory: give each population center a Cisco® wireless network.

Administrators in the province, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, are covering all of its 206 towns and villages with public wireless mesh networks in a bid to improve the competitiveness of local communities.

"Brescia has a rich manufacturing tradition, but recently there has been a move away from a classic production operation to a more service-oriented business model," explains Raffaele Gareri, chief information officer and head of innovation for the Province of Brescia.

"Companies' attempts to become more knowledge-based, however, were being severely compromised by the fact that more than half the province does not have access to broadband connections."

The local government had approached Italian telecommunications service providers to see if they could help with the problem.

But for the average Internet service provider it simply was not financially viable to cable up communities in remote, hilly areas, which account for most of the province's geography.

Each town hall, however, had been wired to a government network intended to deliver intranet services to functionaries. In 2004, the Brescian authorities began to wonder if these connections might be used to provide broadband to citizens, too.

Working with Cisco, the administration drew up a business plan analyzing the potential impact of wireless mesh-based broadband connectivity over six years. The results were astounding.

For an investment of EUR€2 million, it was calculated that the province would save €27 million in unemployment benefits and €30 million through shared public services, while generating €41 million in tax revenue and €39 million in increased small-to-medium business (SMB) productivity.

Furthermore, the model proposed leasing the broadband connections to commercial service providers in return for a 15 percent revenue share, worth €2 million. In all, the six-year return on investment amounted to €139 million.

Buoyed by the results of this exercise and with funding from the regional government, the Province of Brescia embarked on what has become one of the most extensive wireless mesh build-outs in the world, already covering 79 municipalities.

Ultimately, the plan is to extend it across almost 4,800 km2, covering 206 towns and comprising 800 mesh nodes. The infrastructure is owned by the administration and managed by the private sector, a business model which is facilitated by the capabilities of the Cisco end-to-end network.

Each town center has between two and six Cisco Aironet 1510 Lightweight Outdoor Mesh Access Points, that provide wireless mesh coverage in the surrounding area.

The access points are connected to a Cisco Catalyst® 2950 Series switch in the town hall, which relays traffic to a remote Cisco 2000 Series Wireless LAN Controller, which is responsible for functions such as security policies, intrusion prevention, RF management and quality of service.

In total, 45 controllers have been installed so far, each supporting up to six access points which in some areas may be spread across two or more villages.

This is a perfect implementation of the Cisco Unified Wireless solution.

The wireless broadband networks allow citizens to access government Websites and services for free. To get onto the Internet, users need to go through a service provider, paying via a scratch-card or voucher scheme in exchange for access rates of between 4 Mbps and 8 Mbps.

The networks also support connections for schools, healthcare centers and other public sector facilities.

Brescia's wireless service is still in its infancy but already government authorities are considering new ways of using it. One area the administration is particularly keen on is using the networks to support video surveillance systems.

Depending on the other demands on the network, in many areas it will be possible to do this with the current infrastructure. But even if additional access points or controllers are needed, the flexibility of mesh technology makes it easy to add further units without any fuss.

"We thought the right way to go was to use Wi-Fi technology because it is a proven technology," says Gareri. "There are Wi-Fi products available on the market and it is unlicensed, which means it is available now.

"Cisco has been a good partner for us because it helped us find a great, innovative product. This solution was integrated into a system-wide architecture and despite the large area we had to cover, we had no problems in the deployment."

Corrado Ghirardeli, councilor for Innovation and ICT, adds: "Looking at the bigger picture, this investment is directly connected to the development of the economy and the social inclusion of the people within the territory it serves.

"This project being carried out in the Province of Brescia aims to break down the so-called digital divide, a situation which is really difficult, mainly due to the presence of small, disparate towns in a predominantly mountainous area."

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.