April 13th, 2005

Another Muni Wireless/Wi-Fi Network Announced

Minneapolis is one of the latest large U.S. cities to announce its intentions to support a citywide wireless and fiber network. When I read these articles – and they appear almost daily – , I have more questions than answers. I wonder if this is true of the municipalities themselves.

In the case of Minneapolis, the network will be privately owned and managed. According to our research, this is a solid idea. My question is – if it’s privately owned, run, and managed – and it will be profitable, why isn’t someone doing this already? or is it the promise of being the city’s ISP that tips the balance here?

re selling broadband to residents at $18 to $24 … this likely adds a second or third competitor to a market where only 10 to 15 percent of the residents don’t have access. We’re still in the stages of collecting data regarding residents’ attitudes towards wireless broadband and what it would take for them to switch. With the information released to date, it’s hard to sort out the business model. Stay tuned – our report is due out end of May.

re single hotspot provider … we know from our research that very, very few consumers are willing to pay for public access. Mobile professionals are, however, a group willing to pay. What I can’t understand is how you reconcile with all of the others in the city who have build infrastructure – if there is a few, how do you share it among Wayport, T-Mobile, STSN – and all of the other players in a market that remains very fragmented today.

re putting the police force on a broadband network – I like the idea. To some extent it’s a “nice-to-have” in that photos, videos and maps can be uploaded/downloaded more quickly. The question is – do you want your police force dependent upon a network operating in unlicensed spectrum that can be brought down by someone using their cordless telephone? Perhaps they have a closed system or proprietary network technology in mind. I hope so. One of the reasons that cellular is more expensive is because it IS truly ubiquitous and it works more often than not.

I’m sure all of this makes sense to the folks in Minneapolis who devised the plan. One of the things I can’t figure out is how there are never any details in the press – I’m not sure if the municipalities are not answering the questions posed by the press or if the press is not asking the questions.

What I do like about their announcement is that it looks to be multi-use, depends on multiple technologies, involves no taxpayer money – yet (not sure who will subsidize rates to those who can’t afford it today), and will not be owned, built or managed by the city.

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