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No network infrastructure, no Olympics, no nothing

With Chicago and the region trying to add the Olympics to their list of great accomplishments, they better include updating the network infrastructure with more than just a third-party Wi-Fi agreement. The “City that Networks” has to look beyond national comparisons on Wi-Fi and into the real competition of global cities that have significant investments in fiber optics.

Look around, Wi-Fi projects are failing

Anyone thinking that third party Wi-Fi is the ultimate answer is fooling themselves. There is no getting around the issue that a network infrastructure is a big capital investment that can provide great results if implemented correctly.

Initial hype that Wi-Fi was a cheap way to go is getting replaced by excuses when networks don't provide what was hyped. In a recent Fox News article, the argument was that they were over-hyped as universal solutions:

"They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally over-promised and completely undelivered," said Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank. "Municipal Wi-Fi projects use the same technology behind wireless access in coffee shops, airports, and home networks.
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"Many cities and vendors underestimated the number of wireless antennas needed. MobilePro Corp.'s Kite Networks wound up tripling the access points in Tempe, Ariz., adding roughly $1 million, or more than doubling the cost.

"The industry is really in its infancy, and what works on paper doesn't work that same way once you get into the real world," said Jerry Sullivan, Kite's chief executive.

The Technology Futures blog puts it succinctly:

"Communities need to regard telecom as essential public infrastructure, critical to community and economic development. And that well-designed community infrastructure includes both wireless access and fiber to every home and business. With the right business and financial planning, such systems can pay for themselves and provide new revenue streams to local government, while lowering the cost of telecom services. Everybody wins."

In past articles, I have made the argument that we are supporting a stagecoach-era network infrastructure that does not provide what we need to compete globally. Some have agreed with me, but many still don't see the light. Simply having a Wi-Fi network in-place will not suffice either. Consider these points from the same blog, and I could not have said it any better myself:

• Wi-Fi is expensive if you truly want total coverage. Many Wi-Fi projects underestimate the number of access points that are needed, something that is causing problems with the much touted Philadelphia Wi-Fi effort. Some contractors and vendors may be underestimating the number of access points to keep costs lower, so it is important to be realistic during planning stages about what a community can do.

• Wi-Fi is not a business class solution. Few businesses of any size are willing to run their business on a Wi-Fi connection. It may be okay for small one- or two-person businesses, but most businesses want a more secure and more reliable wired connection.

• Wi-Fi has reliability problems. Even if you are in range of an access point, foliage on trees, building walls, rain, snow, and other access points can degrade the signal. Because Wi-Fi is an unlicensed service, anyone can run an access point. All those home wireless routers can cause interference and slow down other access points.

• Wi-Fi, even the newer G and N services, can't handle video very well, and this limits the potential of such a service to be financially viable. A municipal broadband system has to have a solid business model that is financially sustainable, and that means being able to carry business and residential video services.

No substitute for network infrastructure

No one seems to be talking about making a real investment in the network infrastructure, which would include a significant fiber optic network, but that's what it's going to take in addition to all the other upgrades that the City of Chicago is talking about.

It is great to hear about new harbors being built, but that is only one part of the total infrastructure. The part of the city's infrastructure that really needs some heavy investment is its network infrastructure.

How can I get that point across? Maybe if we look at sports comparisons more people would “get it.” Anything less than having 1Gbps as a goal for 2011, would be like saying the Bears or Packers will try to win 10 percent of their games next season.

Pretty lame goals to all of you sports fanatics? Well, that's how lame objectives for network infrastructure sound to those of us that truly understand where we have to be in a global market.

Top 10 cities? Forget the Midwest

According to a study just published in TheAge, the top 10 digital cities were ranked according to the following criteria: broadband speed, cost, and availability; wireless Internet access; technology adoption; government support for technology; education and technology culture; and future potential

So if Chicago or Milwaukee or any Midwestern city is to compete globally, the network infrastructure has to be world-class. Right now it isn't even close. According to the article, the top 10 digital cities are:

1. Seoul

2. Singapore

3. Tokyo

4. Hong Kong

5. Stockholm

6. San Francisco and Silicon Valley

7. Tallinn (Estonia)

8 New York

9. Beijing

10. New Songdo City (South Korea)

So where on the list are the cities in the Midwest? They aren't. When you look at what subscribers receive in other cities, our network services don't come close. All the rhetoric by network carriers, local politicians, and lobbyists doesn't get us any closer to the current speeds that others use in countries like Japan, Korea, and even some cities in China.

What do you pay for your network services?

In Hong Kong, where broadband exists in 73 percent of households, the price is $40 a month. That is pretty reasonable.

Very few know that Japan had nearly 8 million fiber-to-the-home broadband subscribers by the end of last year and, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, 75 percent of Japanese residents have the benefit of a full 100Mbps fiber-optic broadband at $30 a month. That's 100Mbps.

The closest comparison would probably be Fort Wayne, Ind., which has 128,000 subscribers with fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) and currently offers packages that have 50Mbps to the house. What does Chicago have? What does Milwaukee have? What does Detroit have? What do these cities think they need in order to compete globally?

Look at the speeds offered in current packages. Anyone touting DSL as sufficient broadband doesn't know what they are talking about. Maybe that is the problem here in the Midwest. Too many people have bought off on phony definitions of what “broadband connectivity” is when it is not even close to current global reality.

Declining infrastructure = declining stature

Here again with the goal being 1Gbps by 2012, unless we have some objective that matches or exceeds that, we are woefully behind. Broadband connectivity should be defined as 1Gbps. Period. Anything less than that as a goal for the near future is lame.

There are definitely new applications that we are not even thinking about here in the Midwest. What we consider to be embryonic technology, or technology that has not even been proven in the market yet, is clearly accepted technology in the top 10 digital cities.

The latest ratings are a wake-up call. According to this article:

Based on broadband penetration, South Korea is by far the world's top broadband user with nearly 90 percent of households online. Several small, economically vibrant and densely populated states are also high on the list such as Hong Kong, Monaco, and Macau. The U.S., with broadband penetration at just under 53 percent, is in 24th place.

This definitely shows that many decision-makers and their technical advisors do not understand what it takes to be world-class in this arena.

They are kidding themselves by buying over-hyped municipal solutions, and they are caving to lobbyists that want to protect Touchtone in the era of the iPhone.

CARLINI-ISM: Slogans and hype are no substitute for real network infrastructure.

Recent articles by James Carlini

James Carlini: Technology and mergers: Getting the strategic applications

James Carlini: Bridging the digital divide is the wrong battle cry

James Carlini: New Urbanism: Community planning Feng Shui

James Carlini: Mega-Metro Center may go beyond Chicago and Wisconsin

James Carlini: Chicago-Milwaukee "mega-metro" infrastructure improvements are critical

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and is president of Carlini & Associates. He can be reached at james.carlini@sbcglobal.net or 773-370-1888. Check out his blog at http://www.carliniscomments.com.

This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.

WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

Comments

Ron Erickson responded 7 years ago: #1

Please forward this article to the mayor of Green Bay, Jim Schmitt.
We need to know these ideas before it is too late!

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