Saturday’s NY Times had a front page story describing the sorry state of Muni WiFi networks in the U.S. We long ago suspected that the business model was flawed, but we did not expect that the number of WiFi Access Points on light poles had to be so much larger then originally planned. What kind of network architects designed those networks?
The NY Times article states:
"But the excited momentum (of Muni WiFi) has sputtered to a standstill, tripped up by unrealistic ambitions and technological glitches. The conclusion that such ventures would not be profitable led to sudden withdrawals by service providers like EarthLink, the Internet company that had effectively cornered the market on the efforts by the larger cities. Now, community organizations worry about their prospects for helping poor neighborhoods get online.In Tempe, Ariz., and Portland, Ore., for example, hundreds of subscribers have found themselves suddenly without service as providers have cut their losses and either abandoned their networks or stopped expanding capacity."
The article notes: “Philadelphia officials say service will not be disconnected.”
Our opinion: This is highly uncertain. They may get some cancellation penalties from EarthLink, and the $4m estimated to complete the network is both specious (the last part of a network is always more expensive to build; it’s not linear to get to completion), and doesn’t talk about the millions in annual operating cost. No private operator would take this except under contract. Philadelphia’s current CIO is noted as saying that “[m]arketing was also slow to begin, so paid subscribers did not sign up in the numbers that providers initially hoped.” Also specious. Without a network that worked well, EarthLink wasn’t inclined to market heavily. The same is true in most early big-city networks. Service wasn’t good; why advertise for users?
The article makes the good point that the cost of broadband has dropped (at least at entry-level points) over the last three years, making cheap Wi-Fi less of a draw than it was in late 2004.
Network World article states the Philadelphia WiFi Network has Fizzled:
Whither Muni WiMAX?
Azulstar, the designated Service Provider in the now moribund Wireless Silcion Valley Network, has not given up on Muni Wireless networks. The MI firm is enhancing its network offering by including WiMAX technology, using equipment from Airspan Networks and Redline Communications.
Tyler van Houwelingen, the founder and CEO of Azulstar, said WiMAX dramatically improves the economics, performance and reliability of municipal wireless.