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Summary:

With all the talk and debates about MuniFi, few have questioned the WiFi technology itself and how well WiFi will perform for large city-wide deployments. But interestingly enough, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a place not commonly thought about as a tech leader, has announced that it has […]

With all the talk and debates about MuniFi, few have questioned the WiFi technology itself and how well WiFi will perform for large city-wide deployments. But interestingly enough, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a place not commonly thought about as a tech leader, has announced that it has officially selected Clearwire’s WiMAX solution to unwire its 45 square miles. The city says they have chosen Clearwire’s technology because it is “cost effective and sustainable,” according to the city manager Kurt Kimball.

Cleawire will provide a discounted service of $9.95 per month for low-income residents, and this will be administered by a non-profit agency that is yet to be determined (though they are pretty quiet on how much it will cost the rest of the residents.) The plan also includes free WiFI hotspots around the city.

A city memorandum says:

“This agreement between the City and Clearwire is the first of its kind in the company’s history. Although Clearwire has over thirty wireless broadband networks across the country, they have not previously partnered with local governments. Additionally, this agreement will provide the country’s first citywide WIMAX network to be built in Grand Rapids.”

The city is making an early and perhaps risky bet on WiMAX technology, given that even Sprint’s network won’t be up and widely available for a few years. Young wireless technologies can mean more expensive equipment and less testing of networks.

Craig Settles, who has written extensively about city wireless networks, says Grand Rapids could be making a smart move in the long run given the long- range characteristics of WiMAX. But he also says that residents could face a hassle when it comes to having to buy and use the extra WiMAX equipment. While Clearwire will also offer free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city, Settles says, “I might have hedged my bets and made WiFi a bigger part of the equation.”

Most cities are concentrating on what’s ubiquitous and cheap now: WiFi. And many cities are already starting to make deployments and lighting up networks. That’s when the real test happens — after the paperwork and deals are done, do these things really deliver what residents want?

Portland is getting a chance to answer that question today, and MetroFi says it has just turned on a section of its free Portland network. As we wrote about recently, MetroFi has partnered with Microsoft to offer both local, targeted content and advertising to Portland residents.

Philadelphia had the launch party for its WiFi network last week, and continues to test the proof of concept network , after launching several pilot test areas. Even San Francisco officials said recently that negotiations for the city’s WiFI network could be done shortly. (Somehow we think that one might be wishful thinking).

  1. Sydney, Australia is supposedly going to get free MuniFi, funded by my taxes to the New South Wales government!

    Ref: http://www.gcio.nsw.gov.au/pages.asp?CAT=806&ID=2676

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  2. Note that Clearwire has also agreed to resell access to its network on a wholesale basis to ISPs, as well as offer its retail service. That’s unique as far as I’m aware. That might make it feasible to link a Wi-Fi network or DSL/cable service not run by Clearwire with roaming in a single account.

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  3. Looks like we will finally see if the 2.5Ghz broadcast WiMAX systems will operate in and penetrate the Canopy of these cities delivering service links to a majority of the market.
    Will the city also allow a Wireless Mesh (WiFi) provider to deploy a competitive service, or better yet a complimentary services, that will operate under the Canopy and deliver true Broadband WiFi network to standards based handheld (Indoor/Portable and Mobile)devices? These Mesh networks will directly compete with any WiMAX based broadcast network delivering/extending true broadband links via their mesh nodes indoors using some of the new WiFi based on-premise systems from Ruckus.
    What form of testing did the city do prior to selecting Clearwire? Did they test Line of SIte or non line of site scenarios to premises behind trees?
    Is their a performance bond involved in this deal, which holds Clearwire to a performance level??

    Jacomo

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  4. I’m not so sure that Mesh WIFI pencils out to be competitive to a network of a few WiMax base stations. If you look at network “life cycle” costing, more nodes means higher cost of operations for PM and replacement of failed nodes. 700 mHz WiMax is the solution for Muni’s and public saftey comms and for campus wide nets.

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  5. I’m not so sure that Mesh WIFI pencils out to be competitive to a network of a few WiMax base stations. If you look at network “life cycle” costing, more nodes means higher cost of operations for PM and replacement of failed nodes. 700 mHz WiMax is the solution for Muni’s and public saftey comms and for campus wide nets.Intel’s pushing WiMax. When mobile 802.16e gets here later this year and with the potential for service in three or four frequency bands, and when all new wireless cards in PV’s are WiMax enabled, then it will become truly cost-effective for broadband Muni nets to be deployed.

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  6. Stu, there is currently no WiMax profile for 700 MHz. There is also no unencumbered spectrum. Both those things may change in 2 years, but at the moment 700 MHz WiMax in the US is vaporware.

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