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September 02, 2007

Andy's right, and wrong on Muni Wi-Fi

Andy Abramson blogs about public wi-fi being able to bridge the digital divide, which he's right about, but wrong on the implementation.  Outdoor networks are a waste of time and money right now, and will be for the foreseeable future, because weather and the unavailability of power are the two biggest killers of outdoor utility.  Nobody sits in Bryant Park using their laptop in the rain, or when your fingers are freezing off, plus there aren't enough handheld wi-fi devices capable of being used in semi-inclement weather to cater to yet.  If you want to offer a useful service to visitors, indoor venues belonging to the chamber of commerce or other business improvement district should band together to offer a community branded wi-fi experience that advertises the local businesses to the visitors.  His earlier post on how MSOs should use wi-fi networks is close, but still off the mark.  The placement of hotspots should be focused, rather than FON's scattershot approach.  You need to have meaningful density to your deployment.  MSOs should see wi-fi as a way to sell more TV ads and reduce churn in the face of telco fiber buildouts.  But until the TV sales and bandwidth sales arms of the MSOs start to work together, this will go nowhere.  Existing MSO subscribers should get the wi-fi free, incremental revenue can come from the ads and paid access from non-subscribers.

Indoor spaces remain the sweet spot for public wi-fi, both free and paid.  Most C&D counties as Andy calls them, are not dense enough to support the buildout of a CPE-less wi-fi network.  CPE will always be necessary in this type of situation, and wi-fi should be looked at as a stop-gap technology, because it doesn't scale well as a distribution edge, performance is too non-deterministic.  A wimax type solution in the VHF frequencies will fit better here over the longer term because of the penetration characteristics and datalink protocol performance. Meraki mesh type implementations will only work in a sufficiently dense area for their nodes to connect to each each other and the multiple backhauls.

I would lump his first three categories of users together and simply call them nomads, people that travel with a laptop and need connectivity from time to time.  Offering tiered services is a waste of time, it should just be an on or off decision.  These are my customers for UrbanHotspots, the folks that show up in the same venue, or the out of town visitors.  The visitors sign up @ $6/day, and the regulars to my venues sign up for the $30/month accounts, just to have a place to work outside their apartments.


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