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2007, Year of MuniFi

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If 2006 was a year of many major muniFi launches, 2007 will be a year when these large-scale networks are actually put to the test. Muniwireless’ updated list of municipal WiFi networks shows that at the end of 2006, there were 312 cities and counties in the US that either have live networks, or are in the deployment or planning phase — that’s triple the number from early 2005.

Now that many cities have taken the plunge and turned on networks, this year we’ll likely start to get some answers to the many questions surrounding city-wide WiFi: Are a critical mass of consumers willing to pay to subscribe to these services, and at what price? Is the current network hardware good enough? Will cities end up saving money in public services, or wasting money on unused, weak networks? And will companies that dabbled with muniFi in 2006 like Microsoft, Clearwire, AT&T and Google, make more moves in 2007?

MuniFi is maturing and will do so even more this year. Cities, service providers and equipment vendors are already getting smarter and ditching plans that aren’t so attractive. The networks that launched last year will guide companies in what went right and what went wrong and a dose of reality will hopefully paint a clearer picture. Out of the 312 networks cited by Muniwireless, 149 are still in the planning phase, so all eyes will be on the large-scale live networks for valuable lessons.

Use of the networks will obviously depend on how well the networks are built — how robust the signal is and how far the coverage extends. There’s been some talk about limitations in Tropos’ hardware, and perhaps an upstart with newer technology will dethrown Tropos as the king of mesh hardware this year.

We definitely expect some shifts in the hardware vendor market as performance of the networks become even more important as more and more people start using them. There are challengers who would like nothing better to see the MuniFi networks fail, at least from an economic perspective. Clearwire for one is betting that WiMAX will be even better for city-wide networks. If 3G data plans drop in price and add speed with faster networks like EVDO Rev A, 3G PC cards will look even more attractive.

The business models of both Earthlink and MetroFi will also go through rigorous testing this year, as they are some of the first to charge ahead. MetroFi’s free WiFi based on ads will be pressed hard to make money, especially if big partners are taking a BIG cut of the revenues. Earthlink needs to build better networks if it’s going to charge consumers $20 per month.

If all goes well in trial runs for muniFi newcomers like Microsoft we’ll likely see some more viable alternatives to the Earthlink/Tropos/Motorola team emerge this year. We’re still waiting for bigger moves from the phone and cable companies, which were thought to move aggressively in 2006. Hopefully any alternatives will include more options like Boston’s non profit, which will focus on city needs and not only profits.

All of this is good news to us, because it just means more wireless broadband wireless options. We look forward to testing and critiquing more networks throughout 2007.

8 Responses to “2007, Year of MuniFi”

  1. Je crois que le wi-fi urbain n’est pas forcément fait par le mairie (et les impots).
    En effet, à Paris le plus grand réseau de hotspots n’est pas(à l’opposé de tous les dires et écrits sur ce sujet) vennu :
    Рni des hotspots des jardins municipaux (projet annonc̩ il y a un an. Sans suite?)
    – Ni de Ozone (la reception est si mauvaise qu’on ne peux s’y connecter que dans 5 endroits)
    – Ni de Fon ( couverture anecdotique)

    Non à notre surprise le vrai reseau urbain vient des cafés parisiens qui s’équipent de hotspots de bonne qualité pour … attirer de nouveaux clients.
    Et ça marche trés bien puisque on estime à 550 le nombre de hotspots (gratuits avec consommation) de ce type à Paris.

    HArry, journaliste à

  2. If you are curious how the earthlink/tropos/moto cities will fair, look no further than their largest network – Corpus Christi, TX. I live there and I can’t say anything positive yet. Indoor coverage is poor even with a high powered “wifi modem”. I’m not counting them out, but they definitely have a lot of work to do in 2007.

    I’ve been using a Sprint card for sometime though and have nothing but praise for it. The thing just flat out works as advertised and gets the job done. I’m looking forward to next year when speeds are being bumped up.

  3. Cool, now I am waiting for 2020 which will be the year of MuniFi here in my little town called Aachen in Germany. And isn’t it good to have blogging to learn about all the cool stuff the rest of the world has? ;-)

    Actually there were plans for setting up a network here but the problem was that it’s a university city and every student already has access to the university wifi which is installed at the main student locations. Thus it seems not to make sense to setup another network (and even cafés around here are not very fond of setting up something for their guests).

  4. Current muni-wifi networks use outdoor lampstands, which provides terrible indoor coverage. These wifi networks compete only with 3G in terms of actual capability, so it’s redundant and a waste of taxpayer money.

    The reason they exist is they are the only opportunity Earthlink and others have to gain direct access to customers, without dependency on incumbent carriers.

  5. Victor Blake

    You have to mention BelAir Networks if you are going to talk about Metro (outdoor) WiFi.

    SAT flashback here. BelAir is to Tropos as Cisco is to 3Com.
    BelAir:Tropos Cisco:3Com

    Being there first is interesting, but doesn’t make one the winner. In fact the first to enter often gets lost in their own tracks.

    Seriously, BelAir has some major technical advantages (as do some other vendors) over Tropos. In fact Tropos is the least technically useful design of all of the outdoor units I have seen. And BelAir has some big customer wins. Additionally I’d point out that BelAir also supports WiMax.