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Wireless Networking Communications The Internet Hardware

Why Municipal Wi-Fi Networks have Been Such a Flop 236

Jake Melville from Slate shot us a link to one of their stories that outlines why municipal wi-fi failed but also tells of the too-rare success stories. While cities that left their wi-fi in the hands of the private sector fell prey to the "last-mile" problem, grassroots efforts such as that in St. Cloud, FL, have blossomed.
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Why Municipal Wi-Fi Networks have Been Such a Flop

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  • by Melllvar ( 911158 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:13AM (#20780053)

    Is coming along with nary a hitch, as far as I can tell. They started late last year, have a good chunk of the city up and running under it already, and should be done with the whole project by the end of the year. I don't have any real-world experience with it (I live in St. Paul), but I haven't heard anything but good about it, so far.

    Seriously, the city is making setting up wifi look about as difficult as slapping together legos; I can't figure out how these other cities have managed to screw it up so badly.

    And the St. Paul city government just voted to go with a fiber optic rollout for their municipal broadband. Of course, no word on where the $200+ million is going to come from to pay for it, so it's really just vaporware at the moment.

    But God knows there's enough fiber laid down out there up to the curb. It's been almost ten years since they buried those suckers; might as well light plug 'em in and see how well they light up.

  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:44AM (#20780173) Homepage
    My WAP is invisible from downstairs.

    Um... get a WiFi Repeater []?

    My access point is in an upstairs bedrom. If I want direct line of sight from my shed, no signal, an old brick washhouse is in the way. So I got a thirty-quid repeater (actually just a regular access point switched into "repeater" mode) and installed that on the corner of the washhouse (in view of both the bedroom AND the shed). Now 100% signal in the shed.

    There really isn't any magic to installing a WiFi repeater. Plug in to your PC, configure over a web browser with the SSID and encryption key, disconnect from your PC, plonk it somewhere where it can see both you and an original access point. Job done.

    If I can figure this out in my 100-year-old farmworkers' cottage in rural England, I'm sure as hell you can figure it out in a modern US city gated community. It really, really isn't hard.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 28, 2007 @07:42AM (#20780409)
    free wifi in the city up to 512 - also free bicycle rental up to 4 hours - I can't comment for everyone but this is the sort of service that appeals to me. []
  • by Krisbee ( 644227 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:01AM (#20780499)
    If you meant using the X11 protocol over the public internet, you lose in most cases because of the X11 protocol design.

    X11 requires good bandwidth and low latency.
    If you were in Germany and assuming your university is in the U.S., the sheer latency kills X11 protocol regardless of the bandwidth.

    Sun Ray, VNC, ICA(Citrix) and Remote Desktop protocols works over these links. Try one out.
  • Re:Long story short: (Score:5, Informative)

    by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:23AM (#20780651)
    ***Why is that? Electricity distribution works very well without government.***

    Actually, no. Until the government got involved -- over the LOUD protests of the private utilities -- electrical service in rural areas was virtually non-existent. Pretty much like exactly like broadband and Wi-Fi today in fact. Read this Wikipedia link []

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:25AM (#20781185)
    Moscow, Dec 2000 [] "it is thought support girders on the bridge gave way"

    Germany, 1988 'error in construction'
    Austria, 1976 'Concrete of the column had never been examined, was internally totally destroyed'

    Bridges break. Human construction, on either side of the pond, is not infallible.
  • by gordona ( 121157 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:30AM (#20781227) Homepage
    Some neighbors and I started a wireless coop about 5-6 years ago in the mountains west of Boulder CO ( We have about 500 subscribers at $50/month and cover an area of several hundred square miles. While there are some commercial WISPs in the area, it is difficult to see how they have a viable business plan. We have a very limited number of paid employees and most of the work is done by volunteers. The mountainous terrain with lots of trees makes it impossible to have 100% coverage. Additionally, we are finding out that 802.11b, while a good way to get started, relatively cheaply, has severe limitations, causing poor performance for a number of subscribers. We are considering changing at least part of our infrastructure to Motorola Canopy gear. In order to get coverage, we have several T-1 lines at different locations interconnected to each other and other APs by a wireless backhaul. Of course the problem with 802.11b is that while there are 11 channels (in the US) to use, only 3 are non-overlapping. Even using vertical and horizontal polarities for distribution, interference is still a big problem. So far we have been able to work out cooperation agreements with the commercial wisps so that we don't interfere with each other, since such activity would have nasty consequences for everyone. We were able to pay off our initial investment of $30-40K, in about 3 years and are debt free with a positive cash flow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:37AM (#20781277)
    A lot of people around here seem to think that city-wide wireless is going to be free. In Minneapolis, there is a fee--$19.95/mo residential, $29.95/mo for business. []
    The wi-fi has already had unforseen benefits as the new wi-fi was used during the rescue effort [] after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
  • by Warod ( 1136593 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:55AM (#20781457)
    Yes, PanOULU is awesome part of the public services of the city. There are over 850 PanOULU hotspots out there and counting. That's one hotspot for each ~150 people living here. Oulu is and always have been very technology oriented city. Internet access is generally better than most of the country, symmetric 10/10 mbit access for only ~50 /mo (for students even less). 100/10 mbit is about the same if you have fibre to the house and CAT5 cabling inside the house.

    There is no real competition between PanOULU network and home internet access. People prefer fast internet access from home and public WLAN network comes in when you go mobile for studies, work or other activities. As a active PanOULU user I've had very positive experience of the network and it plays important part on my studies as I don't need to use time finding internet access anywhere on school, libraries or other public locations. Just open my laptop and I'm online.

    They've gone so far with it, providing PanOULU hotspots in couple of bus lines as well. It's build on soon-to-be country wide Flash-OFDM network and provides constant transfer speeds around 60 kB/s (kilobytes not bits).

    Whatever they say about municipal Wi-Fi failing, I tell you otherwise based on my own experience on one of the world's most advanced city networks.
  • by RendonWI ( 958388 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @12:54PM (#20784229)
    I have had experience with the motorola canopy gear. And IMHO all I can say is "stay away." The boxes require frequent resets, the radios fail far too often, and they are quite temperature sensitive. They do fine once it is cold, or warm or hot.. but when the temp is changing they go haywire. Wish I could offer you a different product, but we have not found a replacement for these units yet.
  • by cwgmpls ( 853876 ) on Friday September 28, 2007 @03:11PM (#20786355) Journal

    I agree the Minneapolis roll out seems to be going very well. I live in Minneapolis and here is why I think it is working:

    - They chose a smaller company (USInternet) to do the build. This means the company is committed to customer service and building their reputation, rather than just extending their monopoly like the big telecos would have tried to do.
    - The City of Minneapolis set itself up as the biggest customer of the network, to provide network access for public services throughout the city. That way, USInternet has a guarenteed customer base that is large enough to make the network work, even if few other people sign on. At the same time, Minneapolis gets a wireless network that is cheaper to lease from USInternet than it would be for Minneapolis to build it themselves internally.
    - The service is not free, but still half of what existing ISPs are charging. This gives USInternet a growing source of revenue as the network grows.
    - US Internet is building a network in a modular fashion, which makes it easy for them to move things around and upgrade parts, even mix in WiMax in the future, as the needs change.

    So good technology, sound financial planning, and finding the right company seem to be what is making the Minneapolis network happen.

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato