By W. David Gardner, TechWeb News

Another U.S. municipality, Madison, Wisconsin, is getting a citywide Wi-Fi rollout, this time led by a firm supplying real-time automated meter reading for the utilities industry.

In an announcement Friday, Cellnet Technology said it has begun deploying a Wi-Fi network in Madison that will serve wireless users in the city's government, consumer, and commercial sectors. Network design and deployment services are being provided by Wireless Facilities, Inc. (WFI) and the effort will be coordinated by Madison Gas and Electric, a public utility.

Wi-Fi municipality-wide solutions are being introduced in a handful of municipalities across the nation using different approaches. Rio Rancho, New Mexico, is up and running with a solution employing a network of 400 access points. Manassas, Virginia, is using a broadband over power line (PBL) approach. Generally, municipality wide Wi-Fi rollouts require the cooperation and involvement of local government officials.

"I made a commitment in 2004 to bring Wi-Fi to Madison," said Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in a statement. "This is an important new service for Madison residents and businesses."

The Madison network will be rolled out at no cost to the city and the providers have secured initial funding from service agreements from ISPs. The initial phase of the Madison network will cover users in the downtown region of the city with plans to later cover the entire city.

Cellnet's president and CEO Mike Zito said his firm will own and operate the network.

"This network is being designed and built with multiple applications and service providers in mind," said Louis Kek, Cellnet's CIO, in a statement.

The country's largest telephony and cable firms have opposed municipal rollouts of Wi-Fi and with wide-area WiMAX scheduled for introduction next year, their pain level is expected to rise. When Philadelphia decided to cover the city with Wi-Fi, telecommunications lobbyists were able to stop municipal Wi-Fi rollouts elsewhere in the state.

VoIP service is on the agenda of many of the municipal Wi-Fi rollouts and, indeed, Rio Rancho is even perfecting a version of mobile VoIP.

However, help may be on the way for large telephony and cable companies in the form of Verso Technologies' "Skype Filtering Technology," which "filters" content from Skype Technologies VoIP service. According to Verso, it is working with tier-1 carriers on field trials of the VoIP-blocking solution.

"This is a first-of-kind technology we are introducing in the carrier marketplace," said Verso's president and chief operating officer, Marty Bannerman, in a statement last month. "This application should be of great interest to any facilities-based carrier in the world."

In the meantime, municipal Wi-Fi rollouts are spreading. In San Francisco, WFI has teamed up with Google to bid on providing Wi-Fi services for the city.

WFI has said that the municipal wireless market is a strategic focus for the firm. It noted that market research studies have predicted municipal wireless networks are expected to log 128 percent growth annually by 2007.

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