With all the interest in municipal wireless networks, there's been a lot of hype suggesting the networks that offer ubiquitous coverage could supplant fixed broadband and even cellular networks, accompanied by a lot of fuss that local governments have no business competing with these companies. However, both takes on the issue are inaccurate since the networks are a long way from being viable replacements for existing fixed or mobile networks, while in most cases, municipalities aren't acting as an ISP. Either way, they focus the attention on the public-access aspect of muni wireless, often ignoring the other benefits the networks can provide to local governments and their citizens. We've believed for some time that the real benefits of muni wireless could come from public service applications like remote meter-reading, security or public safety communications, with public internet access an added benefit on top. Now, a muni wireless consultant agrees, saying that public internet access will be the weakest financial aspect of muni networks, with mobile workforce applications showing the best return on investment in 2007. Despite studies and statistics from companies putting up muni networks saying public access is very popular, any sort of business model for it remains largely unproven (as do some of the networks themselves). While politicians look to score some PR points by talking about how they want to blanket their constituents with low-cost internet access, the real benefits of municipal wireless will come from far less sexy applications.
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