Another Muni WiFi Network Gets An Early Thumbs Down

from the good-idea-bad-execution dept

Earlier this month, the city of Corpus Christi, Texas launched its municipal WiFi network, which its vendor said was the largest of its kind, covering more than 100 square miles. However, like some other muni WiFi projects, early reviews don't sound too encouraging -- complaints echoed earlier this month in Portland as well. It's the same sort of thing early users in other cities have reported: weak signal strength, low speeds and difficulty connecting. Many of these problems occur when people try to use the services indoors (as one does), highlighting one of the drawbacks of using WiFi for this type of application: it doesn't penetrate buildings well, particularly when the router's at some distance away. Many of the network vendors say users need to buy repeaters to overcome this, something that takes away some of the "free" aspect of these networks, as well as something that takes away from their attraction to visitors. While we remain bullish on the general idea of municipal broadband, it's still not clear at all that WiFi is the best way to deliver it. Many of the muni WiFi "success stories" raise as many questions as they answer, and the truth of how well these networks are working remains pretty muddy. Again, municipal broadband is an idea with a lot of merit, but it looks like a lot of muni-WiFi rollouts are based on the wrong reasons, and are possibly just using the wrong technology.

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  1. identicon
    Jeff, 26 Jan 2007 @ 7:09pm

    Corpus Christi "WiFi"

    I'm over at my friend's house and he told me about this dialog and I couldn't pass this one up.

    I'm a retired engineer and I have an Master's of Engineering (ME) degree and I have checked out the so-called Corpus Christi "miracle network" from various locations.

    First of all, when of the things I checked in communications with the WiFi system. Most areas in Corpus Christi tested adequate for average use. Although one person in a related article in the Houston Chronical stated that the problem was network cards that were unable to communicate TO the router, this theory is false as states of "connection" are through two way negotiations. If you are CONNECTED, especially at 55% and above signal strength, you should expect to get something from the network. Signal and two way communications were not the problem.

    The next thing I investigated is if the network was shutting out systems based on a number that is unique to each network card called the MAC address. Networks can identify your network card based on, and trace your computer to any communications on the network, via a MAC.They can also use it to shut you out of the network. I have a special diagnostic tool that can change the MAC of my wireless card - this is NOT software "spoofing" it actually changes the MAC. The network still didn't work.

    With signal strength and quality at 75 percent with 11mbs connection speeds the only factors that could cause this, in my opinion, are failures on the side of the pronto network "authentication" server (the thing that signs you onto the network when you agree to the terms), almost total packet loss across the network, design failure or an area outage (unlikely due to the connection and communication speed).

    The most likely causes of the failure of the Corpus Christi WiFi are the prontonetworks server or packet loss due to a network failure.

    It's really odd to have this strong of a connection and end up with total network failure. I looked at the connection and reinstalled drivers, etc., etc. and here we were at 75-80% signal communication at 11mbs and getting about 45 packets every 30 minutes and unable to bring up the prontonetworks login screen.

    The best way to describe it as if you were to call up your friend on the cell phone and you have a great connection, strong signal, but then neither of you say a word. It's pointless.

    Now then, there are two exceptions to this I found this afternoon: Downtown Corpus Christi and the airport area. But we may be talking 20 square miles at most where the network is effective... To say that this is the largest WiFi network is not reality - the effective and reliable portion of the network is perhaps 20-30 square miles.

    I think the network, given 30 days, could manage to grab the bits and bytes necessary to get meter readings. You need to remember, however, that someone casually browsing for an hour has communicated the same about of information as the data from every water and gas meter in Corpus Christi. The amount of information data movement is not comparable - if this was built to read water and gas meters that may very well be all it's good for.

    If Earthlink takes this over, good luck to them. They are going to need to spend some time sorting out the current mess. For now your best bet in the Corpus Christi area is Earthlink, Road Runner, Grande, SBC and a couple of the other DSL providers, then set up your own home WiFi. Unless there's something I'm missing here you'll just end up banging your head against the wall with this.

    I would really be interested in hearing other peoples experiences with the Corpus Christi WiFi network. It may be helpful to know the nearest cross streets, etc.

    One final note - If you know Corpus Christi, then you'll know that a WiFi should have been the last priority for this city. Water mains frequently break, sewage often spills into the streets after clogs. The roads are an absolute mess. They should have worried about the basic infrastructure of the city before they did something like this. Before taking the city into the 21st century they should have brought the city's infrastructure into the 20th century.

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