by Carlo Longino

Muni WiFi Is Bound To Fail When It's Based On Inflated Expectations

from the albatross dept

Many cities' municipal WiFi networks have been plagued with teething problems that vendors and local governments are trying to work out. While the public-private model most of these networks use means that these issues should get resolved, it's been clear for a while that muni WiFi isn't a magic bullet that suddenly makes a city "high-tech" or solves all sorts of problems. But even as one city after another shows that the success of muni WiFi as a means of public internet access isn't something that comes easily or automatically, it's still attracting all sorts of hype, like in this op-ed from the San Antonio newspaper (via Broadband Reports), that paints it as a cure-all for all sorts of digital woes. What makes this one, in particular, even worse is that it uses all the success San Francisco has had with its citywide WiFi network (which the article says was deployed several years ago) as an example -- when it's still to get off the ground. Part of the problem with municipal WiFi are all the wrong ideas people get about it: that it's paid for with taxpayer money, when most networks are paid for by private companies; that it will provide top-notch free connectivity, when free services are typically fairly limited; and that public internet access is the only worthwhile application, when all kinds of municipal service applications can offer far more benefits to localities and their citizens. Muni WiFi networks built solely to provide public internet access have a hard enough time launching and succeeding. Weighing them down with unrealistic and inflated expectations borne from mistaken facts only makes them more likely to fail.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    San Antonian, Apr 9th, 2007 @ 8:07pm

    san antonio sucks

    eh I'm a cholo from san antonio. you know what would help our city more than more fat intenets tubing? ban all cars so there could be no more drife-bye's, and then people could have to drive and not walk. then maybe we wouldn't have the obesity problems so much any more you know? but i love it here in SA, ese! The hi fi thing could be ok i guess, as long as it doesn't break my wireless internets at home ok.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    mark, Apr 9th, 2007 @ 8:51pm

    Portland, OR bought into it, and is in the midst of its roll-out. At least the company doing it has some experience, although this project may strain its limits. Fingers crossed the City makes the most of the capabilities, and publicizes all its capabilities, and not just internet access. Everyone here should realize by now, the City does what it wants, regardless the public's input.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Chris, Apr 9th, 2007 @ 9:57pm

    All it takes..

    All you need for a municipal wifi network to work effectively is the proper city topography. Most of the current WiFi technology that's available, at reasonable cost, is based around line of sight connectivity. The companies I've worked for dealing with this type of setup have had no problems making it successful. Not only do they offer certain services the cable companies aren't willing too, but they do so at a cheaper cost. If you're out to try and make it all about big business and a new cash crop, odds are you're going to charge too much to attract potential customers; and, if you can't guarantee reliable service no one's going to stay with you for very long. The hardest part is trying to get 802.11 to work in a city environment where's there's a crazy amount of RF noise, and if you try to get a licensed band, odds are Sprint already has those rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Eddie, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 2:24am

    Government controlled access?

    It just seems crazy to hand over my access to the internet to all the book-burning/banning fundamentalists that get elected to local office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Lewis Salem, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 8:26am

    Our local Wi-Fi.

    I'm still waiting over a year to see any sort of progress on our local wi-fi plan. I remain skeptical of it even happening. The ISPs are too powerful and will make sure internet access in not subsidized by the local government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    "ill" duce, Apr 11th, 2007 @ 8:06am

    Muni Wi-Fi = monorail

    Don't be fooled by the equipment vendors and integrators with the stories of cheap equipment etc. The real cost is operational. Sure you can slap some wi-fi nodes along main street and connect tthem to an OC-3 at each end, but then what. What is your business model? Hw are you going to generate revenue if it is free? ADvertsiing driven? Taxpayer funded? Maybe some RUS or USF money?
    CAll me when you figure out a sustainable business model that takes into account the Opex, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mike Burns, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 5:36pm

    Muni WiFi doomed to fail

    As an MIT grad and provider of WiFi to RV parks, I can say that the concept is fatally flawed, and the flaw is this: WiFi only has a range of about 250 feet.

    I say this as someone who has had an operational 802.11b link of 11 miles running since 2000.

    The point is that I can use towers, amplifiers, and high gain directional antennas which are absent from your laptop, PDA, etc. We have enough range problems with users inside their thin-walled RVs. I hear from many users who have range problems with their own wireless networks IN THEIR OWN HOUSE!

    FCC power constraints and the tendency of 2.4GHz radio waves to bounce, rather than penetrate, will always conspire to prevent the utopian dreams of the Muni WiFi fans from coming to reality.

    It's a great idea, but it's fundamentally the wrong technology and thus doomed to failure, without considering the other issues related to interference, mesh technologies, network maintenance, or revenue generation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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