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Wireless Networking The Internet Hardware

EarthLink Says No Future for Municipal Wi-Fi 126

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the well-not-with-that-attitude dept.
Glenn Fleishman writes "EarthLink dropped its final bombshell on city-wide Wi-Fi, saying that it wouldn't put more money in and was talking to their current deployed cities about the future. The company had won bids in dozens of cities, and then backed out of the majority of them before building or finalizing contracts a few months ago. The remaining towns they were building out, like New Orleans, Anaheim, and Philadelphia, will ostensibly be turned off unless local officials come up with scratch or a plan of their own. EarthLink pioneered the model of free-for-fee networks, where there would be no cost or upfront commitment from cities, and EarthLink would charge for network access. Apparently, you can't make money that way."
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EarthLink Says No Future for Municipal Wi-Fi

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  • Re:Unnecessary (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mustafap (452510) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:13AM (#21389883)
    >I only walked a mile or so through mostly residential streets

    Try using a car. I recently moved to a small sussex town, and found an open network in a few minutes when I needed internet access to find an estate agent. There are two open networks in my new street too.
  • Re:Unnecessary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:20AM (#21389945) Homepage Journal

    I live in Kelseyville which is in Lake County, California. Lake County is home to California's largest and oldest natural lake (~9mi across at the widest point) and a bunch of grapes and not much else. We get lots of tourist traffic in season and it's just full of the local hicks, octogenarians and meth-heads the rest of the time. Obviously there are deviations but honestly those are the largest demographic groups in the area. I drove around the lake one day - no side streets, JUST around the lake - with my laptop, netstumbler, and my garmin gps12. It's a decent little GPS but it's based on pretty old antenna technology and has no external (that's the 12XL.) I was using a PCMCIA 802.11b adapter, a PRISM2 card made by Siemens, which has an external antenna jack but I have nothing to put in it. Not even counting hotels with open wifi, I was able to locate literally dozens of access points. Probably the open ones outnumber the closed ones about 2:1.

    I had similar success in Marysville, which is a couple hours to the east and a damn sight more populated. I suggest you try this exercise in a car next time, as the other commenter says. But I don't think it has much to do with population or tech-savviness. I think you just didn't cover enough area.

  • by icepick72 (834363) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:32AM (#21390011)
    I've subscribed to OneZine city WiFi in Toronto, Canada and the signal degrades quickly as you move back from the street. The best signal is sitting on the sidewalk with your laptop ... with the homeless people. You also pick up a strong signal while driving of cycling on the street but ... not a lot of time to use it. Suffice to say I dropped it in favour of Starbucks Wifi/Bell Hotspots which have a stronger signal indoors. There are enough Starbucks around that I'm never without a connection.
  • by troll -1 (956834) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:44AM (#21390101)
    I wonder if the problem with Municipal Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi in general, is that companies like EarthLink are trying to operate with their hands tied behind their back with restrictive power limitations and limited frequencies while the FCC gives away large chunks of the best part of the spectrum to cell phone providers for millions of dollars who then nickel and dime us for every trivial service they can think of.

    Perhaps he reason we don't have a ubiquitous and cheap wireless Internet and why TCP/IP mesh networks [wikipedia.org] are *not* on the horizon for the 700MHz part of the spectrum is because the government insists on auctioning off a zero cost medium for mega bucks to legal monopolies who have no choice but to turn around and stick it their customers.

    Maybe we need to stop thinking in terms of phone systems when we think about the spectrum and start thinking more in terms of extending the Internet. Just a thought.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:48AM (#21390123)
    People shrug at these deals and delays and say they are "free" to the cities.
    But there is a huge opportunity cost when these muni wifi projects stall out.

    When cities cut deals that grant right of way and other concessions to a particular vendor, it tends to keep other players out of that space.

    Ann Arbor is a perfect example. The vendor contracted to do the muni wifi (20/20 Communications) is struggling financially and has no idea where they will get the money to complete the project or when they will do it. And yet they keep signing up more cities. They look like a bunch of bozos who never had a real plan. They overcommitted themselves. They have FAILED. They should just give up and give other competitors a shot at delivering service.

    Of course AT&T, Verizon, Qwest, Comcast and Charter *love* this. They don't want you to have alternatives at the edge. For them, the longer companies like 20/20 stall and delay, the better. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn there has been some backroom dealing between the companies.

    Dang, the project is delayed again with no new completion date. But it is going to be free!
  • volunteerism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wikinerd (809585) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:55AM (#21390175) Journal

    Where is your volunteerism?? Why should you expect the government, a company, or anyone else to provide you with wifi service when you can roll out your own??

    You are not consumers. You can be producers if you want. Just knock your neighbour's door and ask whether they would like to start a new wifi community network project with you. Connect your home wifis together, and if you find a lot of people to join in then you will have created your own network. Then buy a business plan fixed broadband service or a dedicated line (paid either by the community as a whole or by one richer member who can pay for it) and connect it to your wireless and your network will be connected to the Internet as well.

    That simple. Yes, I know, the technology (WiFi) is not perfect and you can't transmit with too much power, but if everyone has a roof and the signal is sufficient from roof to roof, then you don't need anything else. The major difficulty is actually a social one (your neighbors may not understand what volunteerism is), but you should try to educate your neighbors and persuade them why they should join in.

    Look what people from my city are doing: AWMN [wikipedia.org] and also look at the photos [wikipedia.org] and some other networks [wikipedia.org] in existence worldwide.

    The cage is open guys. You have unlicensed bands that you can use without a permit from FCC or other agency. You even can have RONJA [twibright.com] if you like the optical way. You also have telephone lines, modems, and BBS software. Why you don't use all this technology to create free networks? Are you really trained to act only as consumers, expecting that for everything you need you should buy it from someone else? If you aren't happy with what is available, build your own!

  • @450 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fastest fascist (1086001) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @11:57AM (#21390191)
    Here in Finland, a company called Digita is rolling out something they call @450 broadband, basically they're using the old NMT frequencies to provide wide-coverage wireless internet access at a max speed of 1mbps. Apparently they've been open for business since april, 2007, and TeliaSonera is said to begin offering access to the network starting this December.

    Some links, all in Finnish:
    http://www.450laajakaista.fi/ [450laajakaista.fi]

    FAQ:
    http://www.450laajakaista.fi/9023/9022/9046 [450laajakaista.fi]
    The main points in the FAQ seem to be: Suitable for wide-area networks, requires a separate modem, either an external box or a PCMCIA card. No pricing info released yet, my sources told me "a couple of ten euros per month". Useable on moving vehicles. Available speeds: 1024/512, 512/256.

    Coverage:
    http://www.450laajakaista.fi/Missatoimii/9092/9093 [450laajakaista.fi] (map dated 15th october 2007, unfortunately PDF)
    Colours mean:
    blue: Useable indoors without external antenna. Also useable outdoors.
    dark purple: Generally useable outdoors without external antenna in parks and such, indoors with antenna. Mobile use requires external antenna.
    light purple: In order to get a connection, a directional antenna must be deployed outdoors, e.g. on the roof of your home.

    The coverage is being extended continuously, per schedule it should cover all of Finland by the end of 2009. In principle it sounds quite good to me, the speed however means it won't be a replacement for regular wired broadband. For mobile use, though, if the price isn't too high, it might not be too bad a deal.
  • by nuintari (47926) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @12:34PM (#21390413) Homepage
    I've said this a dozen times in related articles, but I'll say it again.

    802.11 is the flat out, 100%, god awful, worst solution for last mile delivery. I work for a wisp that uses Canopy products, and we just laugh at the 802.11 competition. 802.11 performance degrades the more people you stuff on an access point. The limited channels, and the fact that they scream over each other forces competing networks to get into AMP powered frequency wars. The fact that only channels 1, 6 and 11 are clear from each other makes splitting an access tower to more than three 120 degree sectors pretty much impossible. And neighboring towers will interfere with each other. Oh, and because of how 802.11 does time sharing, essentially Ethernet collision detection with a few hacks on top, one nasty user can monopolize 95% of the available bandwidth for himself without much effort. And this is just my experience in the countryside, where we have few competitors to the last remnants of 802.11 we still have deployed. The reason no one can make money deploying 802.11 on a massive scale is because operationally speaking, it costs a bloody fortune to maintain.

    Just because Moto's canopy is proprietary doesn't make it bad. They have been very good to us, old client radios work with newer access points, whenever a new generation of access points comes out, they have an awesome trade up deal that lasts for months, giving us plenty of time to give our customers the best speed available, without breaking the bank in one mass upgrade. There is an active 3rd party mailing list, that Moto monitors and responds to, an entire community of support from end ISPs, and mountains of documentation.

    Do wireless right, make money, do it 802.11, and spend hours on the phone with irritated users who want to switch back to dialup.
  • by The Cisco Kid (31490) on Saturday November 17, 2007 @12:52PM (#21390535)
    I am familiar with Canopy, as well as 802.11. Canopy works for what its designed for, which is definately not roaming random access for corportate users out of the office. It is "fixed wireless", as I am sure you are well aware. The CPE has to be fixed in place on a structure, and carefully aimed for best signal. Im not sure what price model you are offering, but I seriously doubt you are less expensive than either cable or DSL (even at their 'regular price' ignoring limited-time discounts), and in fac are probably quite a bit more expensive, and you probably either require up-front payment for the cpe, or require a contract that will pay for it over time. Not that cable or DSL are great, both of them you are supporting a monopoly (and with DSL you are usually locked into a monoploy, *AND* have to pay for a phone line you may or may not need/want).

    So if someone is in range of a provider using fixed wireless, and you are willing/able to afford it, and either 1. Neither cable or DSL is available and you want something better than dialup, or 2. You sufficiently hate whichever monopoly cable/telco option is available to you, then fixed wireless is a reasonable option. Oh, and that is assuming the cost of getting the CPE antenna info line-of-sight of the AP is bearable as well. If you are surrounded by forest or tall bulidings that might be formidable.

    Fixed wireless *cannot* be used by the average corporate user in a park at his lunch hour, or by police (or anyone else) in a car. fixed wireless hardware is pretty much never preinstalled in laptops, cellphones, or PDAs.

    What might be good is a hybrid. Offer fixed wireless to residences and businesses. Subsidize part of their cost by always putting an 802.11 AP with their CPE, and offering on-demand access (for a fee) to anyone that's in range and wants to connect. (Rate limit it so it doesnt eat too much of the capacity of the fixed wireless upstream).

    Of course both of these technologies are fairly useless without expensive towers if the terrain isnt hospitable to line-of-sight.

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