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Government Wireless Networking Your Rights Online

Is City-Wide Wi-Fi a Dead Idea? 259

Posted by timothy
from the sledgehammer-ready dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Remember all those projects to cover cities with Wi-Fi? The BBC wants to know what happened to them. When it comes to underground wireless data access, there are obvious issues regarding implementing a wireless infrastructure in underground stations and tunnels, but above ground the BBC suggests that it may be other advancements, such as Wimax, that have made Wi-Fi a less attractive solution. PCMag, on the other hand, suggests that public Wi-Fi isn't dead at all and will make a comeback due to the increasing popularity of Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones. So, will city-wide Wi-Fi make a real comeback, or have other technologies, such as Wimax or 4G, killed the concept for good?"
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Is City-Wide Wi-Fi a Dead Idea?

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  • 59 square miles (Score:5, Informative)

    by The-Pheon (65392) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:56PM (#29408377) Homepage

    Minneapolis has complete downtown coverage now.

    http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wirelessminneapolis/ [minneapolis.mn.us]

    Actually using it right now to post, doesn't really seem like a dead idea from here!

  • Re:59 square miles (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:01PM (#29408403)

    Minneapolis has complete downtown coverage now.

    http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wirelessminneapolis/ [minneapolis.mn.us]

    Actually using it right now to post, doesn't really seem like a dead idea from here!

    You can sign up at http://www.usiwireless.com/ [usiwireless.com], its only $14.95 a month!

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:03PM (#29408413)
    Living in a "wifi city" (Minneapolis) I would like to comment on our municipal wifi and its utter failure. The signal is simply terrible in 90% of residences despite the massive unsightly box on the telephone poll out the window. Frankly this is thanks to the terrible range of B/G wireless. To get a decent signal we will need better tech like WiMax or some form of 4g. As it stands it is nearly impossible to get signal to everybody who wants it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:03PM (#29408415)

    No. 3G is nowhere near enough bandwidth, and the "last mile" syndrome has been recreated: Too many 3G users sucking down bandwidth for the "AP" to be able to deliver it effectively.

  • Bellevue, WA (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:18PM (#29408519)
  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:20PM (#29408539)

    In my experience the problem is simply that most wirelesss chips in laptops/netbooks can't transmit far enough, if you can see an AP the problem isn't with B/G itself. AFAIK there is no DIY hack to fix this (e.g i don't the antenna mods that can boost your reception range will allow you to transmit further, but i may be wrong), although newer laptops seam to suffer from this problem less.

  • by tagno25 (1518033) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:32PM (#29408615)

    The problem I've had with it is that each access point I've encountered usually requires a login and/or a fee to use. For example, Wifi in Starbucks requires a monthly fee from AT&T (or T-Mobile, can't remember). Across the street the library is free. The McDonalds next door charges $2.95 an hour, along with the Wendy's across the corner. The lobby in the hospital is free but requires a login that only the clerk at the front desk can provide. There is Wifi in the mall that is free.

    I think that most people would prefer an all-or-nothing approach. Give me one Wifi experience or forget it. Having to keep track of a new login method every 200-500 feet is a hassle.

    None of those examples are city-wide Wifi. City-wide Wifi would be one provider providing wifi everywhere with one login

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:33PM (#29408627) Homepage
    While I agree wifi is dead for infrastructure grade WAN connections, it's certainly far from dead when it comes to LAN applications and applications like campus-wide networking, home networks, office networks and so on. This is, of course, what it was designed for. It was not intended for widespread geographic usage like 3G systems are. I do not think we will see 3G replace fixed connections, however. Wired connections are always going to have more bandwidth because they can use the full spectrum without sharing the bandwidth with everyone else in an area. Wifi has plenty of bandwidth for most lan applications, but there's no way you can serve everyone in a large area and have high bandwidth - unless you want a router located every 100 meters or so. There's also a practice limit to how high you can go in terms of frequencies. Some schems suggest going to 4ghz, 8ghz and even 20+ ghz. The problem is as you get that high up, the signals get extremely directional and line-of-sight in their nature. Once you get that high the antenna must be pointed in the direction of the transmitter. Even having it on the opposite side of the laptop from the transmitter will not work. Also, even things like leaves on trees and heavy rain can block signals when it is that high.
  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:54PM (#29408749)

    You can ignore encrypted access points, but there's no way to detect APs that use an HTML login page until after you're already connected.

    Plus, the OP's point (I think) was that instead of paying $3 here and $2 there, why not have a $40/mo fee that buys you access anywhere (home, work, school, play) you go.

  • Philadelphia (Score:3, Informative)

    by Potor (658520) <.farker1. .at. .gmail.com.> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @08:29PM (#29408985) Journal
    Philly officially closed off its city-wide wifi in May 2008 [engadget.com] for reasons clearly stated in the link. When it was up, it was practically unusable anyway. I lived within a block of an access point, and I could never hold a consistent signal. But truth be told, I only used it towards the end of its life.
  • Re:59 square miles (Score:3, Informative)

    by number11 (129686) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:09PM (#29409231)

    Is it in wide use already? Is it holding up?

    It's got (somewhat spotty) city-wide coverage, and is in fairly wide use. It's half to two-thirds the cost of comparable speeds of cable or DSL (several speeds available, from 1M/1M to 6M/1M). APs on roughly a 2-block grid, it works well if you're close to one and don't have conductive things in the way (we have a lot of stucco buildings, and stucco is done on a wire mesh base that's pretty good radio shielding). There are (recommended, extra cost) wireless units that connect to ethernet, and they not only are a bit better than the typical cheap wifi laptop unit, but you've got the option of locating your client unit at a point that has good reception. The vendor will also assist with things like outside antennas.

    How does its infrastructure and maintenance cost compare to a wider range wireless?

    No idea what maintenance costs are. In many places they really need a denser grid to provide good coverage. Many of the APs have wireless connections to the network, that may use a different band. We see both flat-panel antennas (which appear to be directional and aimed at an upstream provider) and ~2 foot sticks, 2 or 3 to an AP (typically mounted on a bracket on a utility pole at a corner).

    When the I-35 bridge fell down, that entire area already had coverage, and got heavy use by news media, emergency workers, and (later) construction crews.

  • Neither are dead. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Narcogen (666692) <narcogen@NOsPam.narcogen.com> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:39PM (#29409387) Homepage
    WiMax operates at 3.5 Ghz, 2.5 Ghz, but also at 2.3 Ghz.

    There are also manufacturers who build WiMax gear at arbitrary frequencies when those licensed frequencies are available to a company that wants to deploy WiMax. These are sometimes outside the WiMax Forum's certified profiles, but if the vendor and the operator agree on it, that's up to them. There's little reason why one couldn't deploy WiMax at, say, 900 Mhz or even 700 Mhz, assuming that the spectrum is available to the operator and the manufacturer can develop and implement.
  • Re:59 square miles (Score:3, Informative)

    by dieman (4814) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:41PM (#29409401) Homepage

    I used it last weekend -- Obama was in town and the area near the stadium was covered well enough to use before going in. Sadly it didn't make it into the stadium, but it was useful outside.

  • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:42PM (#29409403) Journal

    I pulled into a parking lot in Milpitas to make a phone call and use my computer. I didn't need to be online for the call, just look at stuff, but I was pleased to see that there was a wireless signal, they've got tons of free access points all over Milpitas, and the signal was pretty good., It wasn't foolproof - they have a login-timeout browser window thingy, and connecting to my company VPN meant killed its connection so it cut me off after about 5 minutes, but that was enough to download any new email, and I could log back in without the VPN and see the web and my home email just fine.

  • Re:It's wifi's fault (Score:3, Informative)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:50PM (#29409759) Homepage

    One of the first reasons is there's no seamless way to roam from one access point to another

    Sure there is. Shell out the bucks on some decent enterprise-class APs from Cisco, Aruba, Meru, and friends instead of just tossing up a bunch of Linksys/D-Link consumer-grade widgets. It's good enough for VOIP.

  • by eggboard (315140) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:05PM (#29409851) Homepage

    I wrote a long article for Ars Technica nearly a year ago [arstechnica.com] that looked at the past, present, and future. The reality hasn't changed much since then.

    Most so-called municipal Wi-Fi projects involved a handful of companies absorbing all the initial network cost in exchange for some to no city business and access to citizens for coverage. EarthLink, MetroFi, Kite, and AT&T were the most prominent. EarthLink got out of the business; AT&T still does some metro-scale networking (Riverside), and MetroFi and Kite shut down.

    There are a ton of networks run entirely or nearly so for public safety and/or municipal purposes that have been very successfully in Oklahoma City and elsewhere.

  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:28PM (#29409997)

    >Its being killed by 3G and the iPhone.

    The 3G networks dont have the combined bandwidth of all those DSL lines and AT&T and the rest know it. Heck, they cant even maintain basic service on the iphone, for example:

    1. I tried downloading a game on 3G from the app store. The iphone told me "Cannot download more than 10 megs on 3G, switch to wifi."

    2. Apple has banned the slingplayer client because it uses too much bandwidth.

    You honestly think this will replace per household DSL/Cable/fiber? Guess what? It wont. Arbitrarily adding 5 years to your prediction is meaningless. Nothing happens in 5 years. 5 years ago the situation was the same except you can replace AT&T with Sprint and 3G with EVDO. Turns out the mobile networks cant support many real clients. This is no replacement for dedicated wired connection.

  • by symbolset (646467) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:57PM (#29410137) Journal

    Unless, of course, he's got one of these [slashgear.com].

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday September 14, 2009 @06:50AM (#29411691) Journal

    WiFi is much higher frequency. This means two things. Firstly, it can provide a faster connection and, because higher frequencies carry less far you can provide a faster connection per person even with the same total throughput. This makes it a better choice for things like high streets and cafes where there are a lot of people wanting to use the service. Most mobile phone networks already use an umbrella model, where they have a big cell tower blanketing a large area and then smaller towers giving access to denser regions. You may need to hop between these if you move around, but as long as people hop on to the smaller cells when they are close, the larger ones don't get overloaded.

    With 4G (which specifies an all-IP network as one of the requirements) and Mobile IPv6 (which is built on top of IPSec and allows mobile clients to dynamically update the routing tables and hop between networks), there's no reason why you couldn't hop from WiFi to LTE and back again without dropping any connections.

  • Re:Philadelphia (Score:2, Informative)

    by Valur (87561) on Monday September 14, 2009 @07:47AM (#29411899)

    Actually it's still up.

    http://wirelessphiladelphia.org/about_wireless.cfm [wirelessphiladelphia.org]

    About a month after the shutdown, it was turned into an open/free network with no tech support or guarantees. Turns out that it's a lot cheaper to run a network when all you have to do is keep it up and not support the end users, collect payment, process signups, etc. I like it this way better. What EarthLink was running only cost a little less than Comcast and Verizon, so I didn't see much point to it.

  • by jeremyp (130771) on Monday September 14, 2009 @08:47AM (#29412265) Homepage Journal

    They wanted to, but they had no wi-fi coverage in the pub where they wrote the article, so they couldn't get on to Wikipedia.

  • Re:Philadelphia (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14, 2009 @12:49PM (#29415397)
    netcraft confirms it

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