New Orleans Slips In A Muni Wireless Network

Funny thing happened while the DSL and Cablecos were underwater…the city of New Orleans launched a mesh WiFi network with solutions from Pronto and Tropos. The muni mesh network currently offers users within range speeds of up to 512kbps, which is pretty good, especially if you consider that the telco infrastructure is still not back to its pre-hurricane performance and coverage. Recall that despite serious questions regarding the city-wide scalability of WiFi technology, we at Techdirt fully support a city’s right to offer Internet service, much as cities offer other utilities. In this case, the expediency of a mesh network out-weighs any of our doubts about the technology, and WiFi is the current best choice to use in a mesh. While the fixed infrastructure is in tatters, a wireless overlay is a fast way to get people re-connected – damn the political fallout. Yet despite the sudden appearance of a WiFi Mesh, the incumbents still seem to have prepared an unfair competitive advantage: apparently the state laws still have an “incumbent inspired” limit of 128Kbps for the muni-mesh network which will be observed once the state of emergency is lifted.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an expensive, $2,800 research report that mistakenly claims that WiMAX networks were proven robust in New Orleans when the storm hit, look no further than this one from WinterGreen Research. After beginning the abstract with the assertion that [fixed] WiMAX “is” available in 2006, the analysts then automatically award WiMAX the crown for the next generation of Wireless Broadband Technology, neglecting the fact that it’s already a good distance behind its rivals in the race. The abstract then dives into the New Orleans case, mistakenly saying that the comm infrastructure collapsed, except WiMAX. That’s just bunk. There was no WiMAX in New Orleans, and it’s a lot easier to survive a Cat5 New Orleans hurricane when you’re not there. Furthermore, other important public safety and comm networks, such as Mobitex, did not collapse, but survived the storm admirably. Mobitex from Velocita Wireless continued to support Blackberry and public safety users during and after Katrina. The WiMAX that WinterGreen Research is actually discussing is a temporary, point-to-point, proprietary, pre-WiMAX network that was brought in by benevolent grad students after the storm. This deployment does demonstrate the flexibility and rapid deployment of wireless networks, but it’s hardly “WiMAX to the rescue.” In fact, the key to the grad’s network is a WiFi mesh (as in the first story above), NOT in the pre-WiMAX backhaul, which could have been done using microwave, satellite, or any other established telecom wireless backhaul solutions. Lastly, the report is titled “Broadband Wireless Systems” which the authors naively drink the hype Kool-Aid and equate to WiMAX. With this much error and bias in the abstract, I’ll save my $2,800.

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