Sprint joins KC smart-city project with free Wi-Fi along upcoming streetcar line

'Intelligent' Wi-Fi to support city parking, streetlights, waste management and info kiosks

Sprint committed on Thursday to building and managing a free, intelligent Wi-Fi network along a 2.2-mile streetcar line under construction in Kansas City, Mo.

The project will be part of one of the largest smart city projects in North America, according to earlier statements by city officials and Cisco, which is providing the Wi-Fi hardware for the project as well as software components for the smart city.

Sprint claimed it is the first mobile service provider in the U.S. to play such a large role in a smart and connected city project.

The free, intelligent Wi-Fi will connect city services to help ease traffic and parking problems, control street lights and water and waste management systems, and offer maps and information on kiosks along new the streetcar line, Sprint said. Sprint compared the project to similar efforts in the European cities of Barcelona, Copenhagen and Hamburg.

Sprint CTO Stephen Bye, in a statement, called the project a "groundbreaking initiative.” Sprint expects to spend $7 million on the project. A Sprint subsidiary, Pinsight Media+, will operate the data analytics and advertising platform built atop the Wi-Fi infrastructure.

A Cisco official in December called the overall Kansas City smart city project, of which Sprint is a part, a "Goldilocks" project because it's "not too big and not too small" in size and could instruct Cisco and its partners in providing smart services to other cities.

In May, the Kansas City Council unanimously voted to draw up a contract with Cisco and its partners for the smart city project, but Sprint wasn't named at the time. The smart city project will cost $15.7 million, of which the city is expected to invest $3.7 million and Cisco and partners another $12 million over the next decade. The streetcar line, due to open in 2016 with free rides, is expected to cost another $102 million.

The city's contract for the smart city network includes a provision for video sensors that would have several uses, including monitoring streetcar movements and snow removal in the winter. 

Jay Bluhm, Sprint Vice President of network planning, said some links of video transmissions will be carried over Wi-Fi as well as wired networks. Sensors connected to city underground pipes and software used to link many diverse services will be developed between the city and Cisco, he said. The Wi-Fi will operate on the 802.11ac specification, using 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum. 

Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kansas, considers the metro region of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kans., as its hometown. The company invested in the Sprint Accelerator center, which promotes tech startups that operate near the streetcar line. Sprint has also created a wireless system for Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals baseball team, and the Sprint Center arena, located near the streetcar line.

Google Fiber picked the Kansas City area for its first national rollout of gigabit fiber optic connections, which is now reaching homes and businesses. There's been speculation that Google and Sprint would work together in the smart city project with Google's recently announced Project Fi to connect Wi-Fi and cellular networks. However, Bluhm said there’s been no discussion of deploying Project Fi for the project.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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