About a year ago, I was tasked with building a robust public wireless network to cover the inner core of our downtown - "The Square". While on first glance, the task sounds easy, it quickly can become overwhelming. Celina had attempted to provide this service previously; but had experienced several challenges with the initial deployment. Speeds were erratic and slow at times, and coverage was not consistent where expected. Challenges came in numerous forms: misaligned expectations, capacity planning, design, and resources.

We approached this project knowing mediocre connectivity was not success. We needed to deliver an exceptional experience. In order to accomplish this feat, we needed a re-enforced design and strategic partners. So how do you guarantee coverage, ensure reliability, and meet expectations?

It quickly became clear that we needed a multi-pronged approach to achieve the results we were looking for.

  1. We needed to pick an access point hardware manufacturer that could handle a large numbers of device associations and perform under significant load.
  2. We needed a strong network backbone to support these access points.
  3. We needed adequate assets to utilize to provide diverse coverage.
  4. We needed a team of partners to put a cohesive solution together.

Picking a Hardware Platform

Celina was utilizing Cisco Meraki for enterprise wireless. While I was very familiar with the platform, I hadn't seen many high density outdoor deployments with Meraki. We reached out to a partner and they worked with us to establish a base design. Addressing high density as a result of numerous highly attended special events was an issue. Our initially design included 14 AP's to cover the outdoor core. This approach required us to retain rights to mount wireless access points on almost every building around the square. While this approach may have worked, we decided to look at some other solutions. We reached out to Commscope, they connected us to our Ruckus team. Ruckus presented their portfolio, shared several customer references with similar projects, and introduced us to the SmartWave team.

SmartWave quickly got up-to speed on our project and began site analysis. After reviewing the project, they suggested the Ruckus T750s as a good fit for our environment. It was determined that we could achieve better results with 7 T750s strategically placed on a few Celina owned assets than the previous design solution.

Building a Strong Network Backbone

We needed a strong network backbone to support our new design. As we began to look at the previous design, we discovered the IP transit backhaul was utilizing a AT&T SMB GPON based service. While the service was subscribed for 1Gbps, GPON is a best effort service. During times of heavy congestion, these types of services tend to slow down as they are oversubscribed by the ISP. Imagine everyone in your neighborhood getting online and downloading updates on their phones all at one time. In our scenario, every local business was providing their own public wifi, but using AT&T. When thousands of people would enter the square, everyone's connection would slow down.

Thankfully, the solution is fairly simple: DIA (Dedicated Internet Access). We decided the best approach was to acquire a new circuit for the public wifi. We worked with several carriers and determined Astound was the right fit for us.

The next step to fortifying the backbone was to ensure each access point had reliable, high speed connection back to our new dedicated internet access. To accomplish this, we decided to leverage the integrated SFP port in the radios and utilize a 100% fiber backbone to our outdoor APs.

Utilizing fiber is the only way to truly guarantee consistent performance and reliability. To plan ahead and allow for further growth, we decided it was important that we consider how much fiber it would take to scale this network. As your access point count start to grow, so does your fiber strand count. Each access point would need 2 strands, or a single strand if using bi-directional optics. This consumption would quickly utilize available backbone outside plant fiber. We chose to utilize DWDM (Dense wavelength-division multiplexing) to counteract this phenomenon. By leveraging DWDM optics with OSP (Outside Side Plant) passives, we were able to reduce our total strand count from ~48 strands to 6. These 6 strands have the initial capacity to service 48 total access points.

Adequate Assets to Provide Optimal Coverage

As we began thinking about outdoor coverage, we started questioning what our citizens were expecting. I spent some time downtown on the weekend and quickly realized that people were expecting outdoor coverage to continue indoors. Our downtown square is surround by restaurants, shops, bakeries, coffee shops, small bars, a winery, and an event venue. This realization was critical to the success of our deployment. We decided the best approach would be to work with the landlords and tenants to install WAP's within businesses that had customers with high dwell time. Over the course of a few months, we successfully completed agreements with 11 of the 12 businesses we sought after for the initial deployment. The owners and managers were excited to see Celina expanding its downtown wifi and were excited to allow us to install in their businesses.

We wanted to build a sustainable network, with a strong backbone. This lead us to install our own OSP fiber network into each business. We knew this would guarantee quality and dependable service. Again, we leveraged our DWDM splitters to deliver the service without consuming any additional backbone fiber.

Strategic Partners

Starting a project of this magnitude required several partners working together to build a cohesive solution. In our case, we were lucky to build a team that worked together to achieve the results we desired. Each of our partners were chosen based on their unique experiences and references to build a best of breed network. We needed to deliver a successful launch and our partners were crucial in making that happen.

Wireless hardware: Ruckus Networks
DWDM design, optics, and passives manufacture : Pivotal Optics
Wireless design and AP installation : SmartWave Technologies
AP electrical and fiber last mile : Automation Integration
Backbone outside plant fiber construction : RTEL Construction
Fiber to the business and inside AP installation : Grayson Collin Communications


As we completed the project, we'd ended up deploying a total of 28 indoor and outdoor access points and 12 switches on a 100% fiber network. In the first week after deployment, we saw over 1,000 unique devices connecting to our network. During our Christmas on the Square event, we saw over 400 devices connected concurrently, and ~700 unique devices throughout the evening. We are proud of our effort and consider the project a success.