Thursday, September 20, 2007

Public Wi-Fi: Pieces That Don't Fit

In my inbox today was the latest FreePress Media Reform Daily, and without parsing the details (for now) I found these three consecutive headlines very tellin:

Community Internet

Wi-Fi to the Rescue for the iPhone in U.K. and Germany

As Steve Jobs continued his European barnstorming tour in Berlin, introducing the iPhone to applauding audiences, it is becoming apparent just how important Wi-Fi is for the success of the phone.
W. David Gardner, Informatioan Week
San Fran Wireless Plan Is Officially Dead
A sweeping plan to blanket San Francisco with a high-speed Internet network is officially dead. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has refused to vote on a deal that Mayor Gavin Newsom negotiated with EarthLink and Google.
Michael Martinez, National Journal
EarthLink Ends Wi-Fi Network Deal in Pasadena
Pasadena's agreement with EarthLink to set up a Wi-Fi network is no longer a viable plan, and city officials are assessing what the next move will be.
Audrey Reed, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Not that the iPhone is indicative of our future "needs" per our future "luxuries" (although some may argue that point, huh?), but the demands of technology and further incorporation of "connectivity" in our daily lives necessitate, even today, a question that remains unanswered by localized attempts to organize public connectivity, while the at the federal level decision makers are sitting in the corner, covering their ears, going "la la la la la la."

There are many success stories (UTOPIA comes to mind) but there are far more examples of how bad planning, lacking investment, and short-sighted goals are holding back genuine efforts to capitalize (literally) on this relatively untapped market/resource that is public wireless. If a community in Utah can come together to rally support for their own high speed access network, why can't Pasadena? Is it a matter of population and size, public interest in the endeavor, or lack of community involvement in the planning phases that lead to failure? Is it businesses jumping the gun on returns on their investments? Is it moderate federal and state support? Do most people simply not care yet?

Realistically, it is a combination of all of these things and more, but one simple notion may be the root of success and failure when it comes to public access; we, the public, must remain increasingly involved.

1 comment:

  1. The reason WiFi has failed to make it in cities is that it's the wrong technology for a backbone. Having worked extensively with 802.11b/g networks, I know that the signals often fail to penetrate buildings and will often be slower than a wired connection. This means spending a lot of money to densely pack access points throughout a city and still not have the signals get into interior rooms. I dropped a bunch of money on 5.8GHz cordless phones and high-gain antennae before I got the signal to go a whole 50 feet to the other side of my house. This is in addition to installing third-party firmware to boost the signal power to double the factory setting.

    This ordinarily wouldn't be a problem... except that the companies selling these projects gloss over these issues or fail to adequately explain them to non-techies while simultaneously talking about all of the subscription revenue they should expect to receive. Having been given a low estimate on cost and a high estimate on subscriber numbers, cities jump in before being hit with the bait-and-switch. I wouldn't be surprised if phone companies are encouraging this to make cities gun-shy and entrench their monopolies.