Santa Clara finds muni WiFi success by matching expectations to reality

2 December 2013 by Steve Blum
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If the City of Santa Clara had promised residents a free all singing, all dancing WiFi broadband service, it would be getting slammed as a failure right about now. The service it launched earlier this year has trouble with throughput to mobile devices and it really doesn’t do a very good job with streaming video.

Instead, the city is trumpeting its success. And deservedly so. According to its recent press release

“The system is getting over a thousand more users per day than we expected during peak periods,” said John Roukema. “Even on weekends, we’re seeing around 5,000 logins a day. Santa Clara’s residents, workers and visitors have embraced the service, which is made possible by our upgrade to smart grid technology.”

Roukema is the head of Silicon Valley Power, which is what the city’s municipal electric utility is called. The free, more or less citywide WiFi system is cobbled together with SVP assets, including a fiber optic backbone that runs through much of the city, a recently upgraded WiFi-based smart meter network and the tattered remains of the failed MetroFi system, a leftover from the go-go muni WiFi days eight years ago.

When it launched, Santa Clara positioned the service as a light duty convenience when it happens to be available, and not as a lifeline utility for daily use. Check your email or take a quick look at a couple of websites: yes. Watch Netflix: no.

The average weekday user is consuming somewhere between 75 and 100 megabytes a day. If the distribution of user volume is anything like typical, there’s probably a relative handful that have figured out how to score free gigabytes, with the vast majority doing as expected and tapping the system for quick and convenient hits.

Set realistic expectations for service and deliver. Santa Clara is making muni broadband success look easy.