31 Oct Singing the wireless blues: Why Wi-Fi is out and WiMAX is in
From WIRED to Free Press to individual blogs, many are questioning and quoting where the wireless market is going and trying to make excuses for the reality. Wi-Fi is NOT the universal solution that all these people pumped it up to be. I said that, months ago.
In WIRED (9/4/07):
Last week, San Francisco, Chicago and St. Louis all announced significant and perhaps fatal roadblocks in their municipal Wi-Fi projects. “Frankly, I’m not surprised at all,” said Dewayne Hendricks of Tetherless Access, a provider of metropolitan wireless-networking services. “It’s been clear this was going to happen for a while now.” Chicago, one of the most recent cities to curtail its citywide Wi-Fi project, was unable to eke out a viable business plan with either AT&T or troubled Internet service provider Earthlink.
Well, no wonder. The way it was positioned, it was not a viable solution and when you don’t have buy-in, read that as “REAL investment” from the municipality, you have nothing.
Real solutions need real investments
The lack of any municipal investment is a hollow commitment for the success of a municipal Wi-Fi project. You also need an internal champion for an initiative like this.
With the business models that were “pitched” to municipalities, the idea of an investment or real “ownership” of the project was always downplayed. “Free Wi-Fi” without any investment or commitment was a big selling point and was never delivered in a successful manner. Again from WIRED:
It’s a harsh dose of reality that juxtaposes the giddy enthusiasm for ubiquitous Wi-Fi that cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, Houston, and many others displayed only a few years ago. In part, that enthusiasm was based on a handful of assumptions. The first was that advertising could support citywide connectivity, enabling the services to be free or low-cost. Many proponents also argued that residents would actually want to use the free networks. Both assumptions were mistaken.
Well, Duh! You had people hyping this and just about guaranteeing it was the next ubiquitous city service since sewers and garbage collection for major cities without any cost to the resident or city. Hmmm… I would like to see Waste Management or Allied Waste sell their service as “being free” with some mysterious way that they would be funded.
And as to this statement in WIRED:
With a range of just 100 or 200 feet at most, Wi-Fi networks simply don’t provide adequate access – especially for people in buildings or other enclosed areas. As a result, most networks deployed in the past several years have required between 20 and 100 percent more access points than budgeted, according to journalist Glenn Fleishman who publishes Wi-Fi Net News
This just shows that the Wi-Fi “experts” were not experts at all because if they were, they would have realized this on initial design models and figured out the costs upfront instead of having to go back to the well for more money that wasn’t there in the first place. There was no cookie-cutter approach or common rules for design. After you do a lot of networks, you either find some rules of design commonality or you find that each one is a custom job. Evidently, their depth of expertise was lacking.
As I said in an earlier column about WIMAX WORLD several weeks ago:
It was interesting to see that some industry executives were more apologetic for the fizzling out of some municipal Wi-Fi projects than being evangelists for adding wireless capabilities to cities.
Whoever was advising these cities on trying to get a “free service” to add into the infrastructure without any investment, but keep the rights to control and oversee the services, was just wrong.
What really scares the incumbent phone company
Look to WiMAX and fiber backbones to be the real solution, but also look to the incumbent phone companies to fight it tooth and nail.
Give me WiMAX and I can obsolete the central office and the whole business model. Give me WiMAX and I can upgrade larger areas faster and more effectively than Wi-Fi. Give me WiMAX, and I can get personal devices like they have in Japan and South Korea which make the Blackberry and the Palm Pilot look like you are carrying around an eight-track player. Give me WiMAX and the incumbent phone companies will put up a stronger fight than what they did with the Tri-Cities Referendum a couple of years ago.
Look beyond the United States for working examples. Wireless solutions are more sophisticated elsewhere and they are up and running with devices you cannot even buy here yet.
Look at CISCO’s latest $330 million acquisition (from ITBusinessEdge newsletter 10/31/07):
Mobile WiMax is seeing lots of activity. Navini Networks, the WiMax antenna specialists — along with Beceem, Fujitsu, and Runcom — launched the Smart Antenna RF Test Alliance (SMART). The announcement came a couple of days after the news that the vendor is being acquired by Cisco.
CISCO is trying to position itself in a major way. If WIMAX was not a strategic direction, CISCO would not be dropping $330 Million.
We are playing catch up here when it comes to wireless. And to those that think municipal wireless is still a viable solution, you better get a couple of things straight:
• Get yourself some real network engineers that understand telephony and network design. That means paying for expertise and not sending out RFPs and asking for “free input.”
• Get yourself some good lobbyists and get some relationships going with lawmakers. Lobbyists are as common in the telecom industry as fleas are on a junkyard dog. If you don’t have them on your dog in the fight, expect to lose to the junkyard dog.
• Don’t sell hype, sell solutions. Free Wi-Fi is like saying free garbage pick up. People in the know actually know better.
• Stop listening to those that misinterpreted the market and now are trying to sidestep their misguided evangelism and seminars. Network strategy and implementation is long-term and not flavor of the month.
• Get ready to spend some cash to do things right. This is an infrastructure issue and needs real funding, this isn’t the same as making the corner coffeeshop a hot spot.
CARLINI-ISM: There’s no such thing as a new $5,000 Rolls Royce. You get what you pay for.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Broadband connections critical for regional viability and growth
• James Carlini: Intelligent office buildings would shore up vacancies
• James Carlini: For cities, WiMAX reality should replace W-Fi fantasy
• Think Wisconsin has Wi-Fi woes? Check out the Windy City
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.
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