London is officially jumping on the mesh Wi-Fi bandwagon today with operator The Cloud switching on the 127-node network built with BelAir Networks gear. With some of the large-scale Wi-Fi networks like Taipei’s slow to bring in a significant amount of users, it’s becoming clear that networks need to be built for a variety of specific uses like public safety, or smartly targeted at a population that will actually utilize Wi-Fi services. It’s not as easy as ‘build it and they will come.’
Unless it’s a population with few other options to broadband, pure public access in large metro areas is starting to be seen as one of the less reliable links in the chain of muni Wi-Fi return. Will Londoners be interested in the service? A BBC reporter who already logged into the London network while travelling on one of the cities rickshaw cycles, wonders:
But is there really much demand for open-air surfing? After all, staring at a laptop screen in the sunshine is not a great experience, especially in an area where so many cafes have Wi-Fi access. . . [also] it’s hard to see why well-paid city workers would bother with the extra effort needed to make a Wi-Fi call.
If the companies want public access in large cities to play a large role, they need to push devices that help users connect and make calls more easily. For the London network the companies are offering free service for the first month over Nokia’s devices, and EarthLink has a similar promo with Nokia’s newest Internet tablet and free service until the end of 2007 in the U.S. But these types of devices have been slow to enter the mainstream.
London’s network could bring in a significant amount of subscribers, but my guess is it will take quite a bit of time to draw substantial interest from the public. Enterprises, looking to save money, might be more willing to try it out.