Wi-Fi RFPs and Vendor Evaluation: Ask the Right Questions When You Prepare for Wireless Internet

Article excerpt

Small and rural communities have always hoped for but have almost never received the benefits of high-bandwidth Internet connectivity. Wi-Fi, also known as wireless (Internet) fidelity, is a solution for such connectivity. Wi-Fi offers products that are far more capable than what were available even two or three years ago.

To make Wi-Fi projects a success, leaders of small communities must have the ability to distinguish among business models, financing, technologies, and deployment methods, because these are the details critical in determining the success of a wireless broadband project.

The collapse of the trillion-dollar dot-com bubble taught us a lot about the dangers of over-inflating the industry and the willingness of millions to fall victim to the lure of marketing and hype. So, what about Wi-Fi today?

Quickly deploying a Wi-Fi network in a small community can easily result in an unproductive Wi-Fi network and significant losses in public funds and trust in government. But doing it right can lead to successful broadband Internet connections even for small and isolated communities.

PRODUCTS VERSUS SERVICES

When local governments, universities, and school districts began deploying indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi networks in the late 1990s, many of the Wi-Fi products were in their infancy. The various types of Wi-Fi radios and antennas were not completely interoperable, and reliability was a significant problem. Today's Wi-Fi technology is a significant improvement although no universal Wi-Fi solution yet exists.

Today's Wi-Fi has evolved into not only a product; it has also become a communications service. For equipment manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and service providers, the race into the local Wi-Fi market has begun. Wi-Fi industrialists know that in this highly competitive environment selling services or service agreements is critical to their survival. Right now, the industry is still controlling the dialogue, and local governments need to be properly informed to make accurate decisions.

STEPS TO EFFECTIVE WI-FI PROJECTS

Local government managers have the responsibility of determining whether the Wi-Fi hype can truly deliver what is needed in their organizations and communities. Constrained budgets and a public wary of government make it critical that a Wi-Fi network will deliver what it promises. Managers understand that each community has unique characteristics and needs and that what works for one community does not always work for another.

Wi-Fi is no different. Determining which model is best for your community requires proper application of knowledge before, during, and after issuing an RFP. Which Wi-Fi company, model, or business plan is right for each situation? The answer is simple: It depends.

Outlined below are steps that a local government chief executive or administrator can take to make it easier to obtain accurate, reliable, and detailed information from vendors. These steps are intended to assist an evaluation committee in determining specific needs and the most qualified vendor solution for a local government or a local government agency

1. Situational assessment, vision, and objectives. When the vice president of a Wi-Fi company states "Some 95 percent of the RFPs I see in the municipal wireless industry are terrible," that vice president might be speaking the truth. Wi-Fi vendors have dozens of local government RFPs sitting on their desks. They must determine which RFPs to respond to and which to avoid.

As a result, when a locality clearly articulates its situational needs, vision, and objectives and includes this information in the RFP document, it is much more likely to receive quality responses. Items to include in an RFP are:

* Results from an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT); infrastructure and service assessments; business and residential surveys; government agency summits; and key elements from existing strategic plans. …