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Municipal Wi-Fi Networks In Trouble 294

Posted by kdawson
from the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dept.
imamac writes "According to an AP story, municipal Wi-Fi is going nowhere fast. A think tank research director quipped, 'They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered.' Subscriptions to the services are much lower than expected and lawmakers are concerned that millions of dollars will have gone to waste that could have been better spent on roads or crime-fighting. Satisfaction with the quality of service has also been low, which give some insight into the low adoption rate. Is municipal Wi-Fi just a bad idea, has it been poorly implemented, or is the technology just not there to support such an endeavor?"
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Municipal Wi-Fi Networks In Trouble

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  • No demand for it (Score:2, Informative)

    by meatmanek (1062562) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @03:44PM (#19227243)
    There are only a few groups of people who want wireless everywhere:
    • College students. Most colleges already have wireless for their students, and students spend most of their time on campus. Time off-campus is typically spent working or finding some other form of entertainment.
    • People who need internet for work who already have blackberries or cell data cards.
    • People who want wireless where they hang out, but many of these places (coffee shops, etc) already have wireless.

    Most other people might have a slight interest in being able to get on the internet anywhere, but not enough to pay for it.
  • Why? (Score:3, Informative)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:09PM (#19227719) Homepage Journal
    Simple question is why have wi-fi everywhere in a city? What problem does it solve?
    Do people constantly use their computers in parks? On the sidewalk?
    Most people use the Internet in their home. A few will use it at a coffee shop or restaurant.
    If you want to provide Internet access then a community DSL or fiber network is the place to start. Then selective hot-spots. like at schools, libraries, community centers, and maybe some parks.
    Why would I pay for access to a metropolitan wifi network when I have a WAP at home, internet at my office, free wifi and a couple of restaurants I go to, and a browser on my phone?
    metropolitan wifi networks are a solution seeking a problem.
    Now Monorails are cool. Actually they do tend to be cheaper than subways and a lot more attractive than elevated trains. I think they are a good solution to mass transit. Too bad buses and light rail are cheaper still.
  • Re:The major issue (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:31PM (#19228087)
    It's obvious that the implementors haven't got a clue about RF compatibility.

    The 2.4GHz band (in the USA) is a SHARED BAND, and under the current FCC Rules
    and Regulations, the Wi-Fi stuff operates as a low-power, Part 15 device. This
    means that its users are considered secondary to the various other services
    who are permitted to use that portion of the spectrum. And there are other users,
    such as microwave ovens in the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) service,
    which are on a center frequency of 2450MHz, but can (and certainly do) wander
    around a bit. The Amateur Radio Service can use 2390-2450 MHz, and as a licensed
    radio service has precedence over the Part 15 devices, but is still secondary to
    the primary user, the Government Radiolocation Service (e.g., radar). And, just
    to make things interesting, many of the cordless phones and similar household
    appliances operating under Part 15 that use the spectrum as well. So, yeah,
    there's a lot of noise up there.

    Even without those considerations, even if that spectrum were devoid of the radars,
    hams and cordless phones, etc., there's still only a handful of channels available,
    and unless the planners carefully analyze the coverage of each wireless box and
    assign channels appropriately, you're bound to have a mess. Even if it's optimally
    structured, a handful of network bandwidth hogs can ruin it for everyone anyway.

    The amount of time and effort (==$$$$$$) to analyze the resulting problems is
    likely to be a massive financial sinkhole whose cost/benefit ratio is unjustifiable.
  • by mark3748 (1002268) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:00PM (#19228645)
    It amazes me how much people just don't understand libertarian principals, and then bash them because of the lack of understanding.

    The government is inefficient, and if you don't believe that, you're in denial. Just look at all the "wars on" anything. The government throws trillions of dollars (which are stolen, for all intents and purposes) at things that people perceive as problems. Some really are, some aren't. The war on drugs creates more drug use, the war on terror creates more terrorists, the war on poverty, causes more poverty. We should declare war on some endangered species, maybe we'd have more of those as well...

    The point is, there is nothing the government does that private companies or individuals couldn't do cheaper and better. Libertarians don't believe in no government (that's the anarchist's, which aren't as crazy as you may think), but they do believe in less government, an extremely limited government.

    The basic libertarian principals are that you do whatever you want, and I'll do whatever I want, and as long as I don't harm you and you don't harm me, everything is good. The only legitimate functions of government are the protection of the three fundamental rights of life, liberty and property.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:05PM (#19228767)
    Don't get me wrong: I like the fact that they exist. They can, in fact, be done right. They should exist and we need them and other services like them to break the horrific stranglehold legal monopolies like cable and the Bells have over our connections.

    However, they can be done very, very horribly. Case in point: Tempe, AZ (think Phoenix) has municipal wireless. They got it right with allowing some free services to everyone (you can visit asu.edu and such without paying), but the service is run by complete morons.

    That's right, utter morons. Their "transparent" proxy isn't. If you're having trouble connecting, you'll run into it constantly and it breaks all downloads because it wants to direct you to their crappy page of news and ads and open your originally requested site in a (blocked) pop-up. Did I mention that you get this page sent even when the program you're using isn't a web browser? Believe me, it doesn't play nice with telnet, non-HTTP downloads, etc.

    Oh, and if you're having service problems, well, umm, tough. All of their websites only have useful information if accessed over the wireless link. If you go to the same URLs from the web, you get pages of ads. I don't know if they belong to the same company, or if they're from domain squatters, or what, but it really, really sucks when you have no one to contact about problems.

    Also, all the links here are unencrypted. Set your laptop up to sniff traffic and you have a goldmine of passwords to steal, you can launch MITM attacks, or whatever you want. Yeah, they use SSL while you log in, but that's not much comfort.

    So please, if your city plans on setting this up, make sure it's run by competent people! Otherwise, you too may feel like strangling whoever made that damned semi-transparent proxy and decided to make sure that support was almost impossible to locate, let alone contact.

    And if you're ever in Tempe, don't bother connecting to the WAZTEMPE SSID for any reason. I had nothing but headaches trying to use their services and I never want to use them again. Find a cafe or something with its own wireless link. They can hardly do any worse.
  • Re:Suprised? (Score:2, Informative)

    by samweber (71605) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:37PM (#19229207)

    Unless government has the magical power to produce goods and services out of thin air, the government needs to make a profit
    And, from Moofie's response:

    You're not trying to pretend that government services don't have any overhead, are you?

    It seems that a definition is in order. Profit is the amount of revenue received minus the production cost and overhead. So, no, government doesn't need to make a profit, it just needs to cover its costs and overhead. Neither of which are zero.

    And, again, the idea that companies don't have waste and bureacracy is laughable. Just talk to anyone who works at a reasonably large company and they'll tell you stories.
  • Re:The major issue (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shaman (1148) <shaman@@@kos...net> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:10PM (#19229583) Homepage
    I operate a fixed wireless ISP with 40 towers and over 1,500 (deeply) rural customers. Just so we're clear on the level I'm speaking at.

    Actually, you have several things wrong. Mesh radios CAN be set to low power modes but invariably they are not. They are set to blast at or near full power because nearby interference causes issues that only power output can solve. Sectorizing only solves so much. But even those that aren't set up that way still exhibit many issues. At a full 36db EIRP, 2.4Ghz will indeed go 20 miles line of site and beyond, if the noise floor is low enough and the radio is high enough. 5.2Ghz cannot use reflectors and only has a useful range of a few kilometers, but it's the lowest power of the available bands.

    Take a look at the 2.4Ghz backhauls that go over 40 miles with standard EIRP. Not that PCMCIA cards will power that far, but the A.P.s will. One company makes a product that claims 216Mbps full duplex over 20 miles, in fact.

    So the question to you: If mesh gear worked so well, why is everyone having trouble with them?

    As for interference... 5.8Ghz noise levels are horrendous around here, 2.4Ghz is only good for backhaul links for towers that are way out in the middle of nowhere, for multipoint it's nearly unusable, and 5.2Ghz is moderately noisy as well. I'm hoping the 5.4G and 4.9G radios will be available really soon because I need them. Speaking of that, my damn Motorola OFDM radios still can't be set to 4.9G even though it says right on the box that they support that band.

    Then there's 900Mhz... the interference in the top of the usable unlicensed band made it unusable and if two WISPs in an area decide to use 900Mhz, they'll both lose... and the beat goes on.

    The only real way out of the mess is to go with proprietary WiMax type products, and if you see another one of my posts, that's not a completely infallable solution, either.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Informative)

    by good soldier svejk (571730) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:35PM (#19230951)
    That is why I run OpenWRT. I can crank up the gain a little to get an edge over my neigbors. I also cracked a bunch of them and set them to one end of the spectrum, reserving the other for myself. That makes me feel selfish so I am considering running on channel 13, which is of course illegal in the US, but is nice clean bandwidth.
  • Re:Google's Wifi (Score:2, Informative)

    by egumtow (410320) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:24PM (#19231355)
    I've been using Google's free WiFi in Mountain View for a year now with very few problems. In fact, it's more reliable than Comcast's $40/month cable modem service ever was.

    If you're having a problem you should check to see if there's a node in your area. Here's a map of all nodes in Mountain View [google.com]. The service works best when you have line-of-site access to the node. My wireless modem sits on my window sill, connected to a node ~60 meters away obscured by a thick magnolia tree.

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