The City of Stillwater is upgrading its wireless capabilities.

This past Monday, the Stillwater Utility Authority approved a project to upgrade the City's wireless mesh network, which has been in place since 2010 as part of the citywide automated meter reading project, or AMR.

The project would build off the 50-mile fiberoptic backbone the City implemented in 2017 to create a more versatile wireless network.

"These connections would give the utility greater awareness of its system, allowing quicker decision making and better overall utilization of its assets," I.T. Manager Brad Stewart said. "The upgrades also further the utility's initiative to modernize its mobile workforce, allowing field personnel to view maps and outage data in real time."

The wireless mesh network upgrade will be done in a phased approach. Other departments could utilize the mesh network for mobile workforce instead of cellular activity. Surveillance videos, traffic signals, school zone lights could utilized in the network, for instance.

The cost will be $637,103 from the Electronic Rate Stabilization Fund. Mesh network equipment and network installation services make up an estimated $378,680. Fiber optic material and installation services will cost an estimated $200,504. There is also $57,919 added to the cost as 10 percent contingency funds.

"The fiber optic loop was the platform that we are going to be able to stack and build upon great things in the future," said Electronic Utility Director Loren Smith

The current system allows "virtually every water meter in town to automatically transmit its meter reading data to the City's utility billing system over the wireless mesh network," according to Stewart.

The network is made up of wireless nodes located throughout the city that pass data to each other over a secured encrypted connection. As it currently stands, each water meter has a radio that transmits an individual meter's reading data that is heard by a nearby mesh node, which then passes that data to another mesh node, repeating the process until the data reaches a gateway node. This gets the data back to the City's data center and billing system.

"Since 2010, this wireless mesh network has worked pretty well for the AMR system," Stewart said. "But because the wireless mesh network was originally engineered designed to meet the needs of AMR, its design is not ideal for most other uses."

Stewart added it is sufficient for small bursts of data like water readings, but not for larger applications.

"With the fiber optics in place, there is now opportunity to provide high speed backhaul for the wireless mesh network," Stewart said.

"The addition of about 30 gateway nodes would serve as intersect points between the wireless network and high speed fiberoptic backbone. It means one or two hops between wireless nodes before hitting a high speed fiber-enabled gateway to the data center."

It would make the wireless mesh network more viable for modern application that requires more throughput. Distribution automation would also be possible, which allows the electric utility to monitor and control assets on the electric distribution center, Stewart added.

Twitter: @Kieran_Steckley