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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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  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:07PM (#29408441) Homepage

    WiFi has a limited future anyway so who cares? The future is becoming increasingly clear ... over the next 10-20 years most existing air protocols are likely to be phased out in favor of GSM LTE [wikipedia.org]. LTE (and the "Advanced LTE" which is likely to become the actual deployed 4G technology) offer speeds in the hundreds of megabits/sec range and latency in the ~millisecond range. In fact LTE is very close to the theoretical limits of what is physically possible to do, speed wise. LTE is also being designed with support for femtocells in mind right from the start, in fact, there seems to be growing consensus that 4G mobile networks will primarily be deployed through LTE gateways in the home first with traditional cell-tower style macrocells coming much later.

    LTE offers some compelling advantages over the mixed 3G/WiFi tech we use today. Firstly, authentication and billing are solved problems. WiFi is made significantly less useful by the way every public hotspot has its own random billing infrastructure, often with pages that don't work well on mobile devices. Because GSM/UMTS sim cards are secure devices, the same convenience that 3G offers today will be possible everywhere, with operators either paying for the ADSL backhaul on their own, merging with cable/DSL companies to become vertically integrated radio/landline companies, or simply paying people who run LTE femtocells for the cost of the backhaul.

    Secondly, LTE is a natively IPv6 based protocol. That means that if you use an LTE/4G enabled NetBook in combination with a home femtocell, there won't be any crap related to WiFi NAT routers as long as you're connecting to an IPv6 site. The devices will probably be controlled and leased by the operators and so won't suffer the same featureitis that has made home internet so flaky and requires so many bizarre workarounds like UPnP today.

    Thirdly, hand-off actually works in mobile protocols. 4G/LTE devices will be able to transparently hand-off from your personal home femtocell to a macrocell when you walk outside, to a 3G or even GPRS/2G cell if you roam out of range .... all without you even noticing. Try that with a WiFi based system!

    Finally, the LTE protocols include support for true single channel multi-cast. For this reason it can not only replace 2G/3G and WiFi, but also digital terrestrial TV broadcasts, as well as digital and FM radio with no loss in spectrum efficiency due to needless retransmissions.

    LTE + IPv6 is the most efficient and user-friendly way to use limited spectrum, period. 20 years from now other air protocols will seem like an anachronism.

  • It's wifi's fault (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tiger_Storms (769548) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:18PM (#29408513) Homepage Journal

    I'd bet on it killing it's self. I've worked with wireless (WiFi) for 5 years implementing them in RV parks, Hotels, and Apartment complexes. There are a lot of issues with just the nature of wireless that cause people to fret away from it.

    One of the first reasons is there's no seamless way to roam from one access point to another, if it were possible to shell out a few thousand dollars and make all access points go to one gateway using a fiber optic underground network, then it "might" stand a chance but yet again you'll run in to the problem of your radio's not being aggressive enough to roam from one AP (access point) to another on the customer's side. Me and a few of my coworkers in the past have tried many different methods of making it seamless only making it 'kinda seemless' by using 2-3 different radios.

    Second reason, is the very nature of wireless it's self, this 2.4ghz, or even 5ghz isn't good with distance as well with going in/around objects that get in it's way, You could be in an RV with an AP less than 20 t, with a 10+ db radio and get 1 bar of signal, but move to a window and it'll go to 4-5 bars? Buildings aren't made to let WiFi go through it. Being in Portland and watching their wireless city project die was sad but they couldn't shell out the support they would need in order for everyone to get connected, and stay connected. We're talking hundreds of brick buildings with very tiny windows. I'm sorry the makers of WiFi never expected it to ever be used in a city-to-city setup, and that my very well caused it to die. Wimax, and G4 networks, are made to tackle city's and City WiFi will never compair.

  • by martas (1439879) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:32PM (#29408619)
    no offense, but that is ridiculous. there's not a snowflake's chance in hell that, for example, campus-wide wifi will disappear anytime in the next, oh, i don't know, 20 years. maybe what you say is true for the "general population", i.e. in random locations around cities, but there will remain many dense technological "hubs" like university campuses where wifi is pretty much essential.

    in other words, most physically co-located large organizations will have virtually pervasive wifi availability for many years to come.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:59PM (#29408777)
    No they won't. They'll do what they typically do raise rates until the demand goes down enough to meet their supply. And if they get regulated, then they'll just kick off anybody that they deem to be fully utilizing the promised service.

    WiFi for this sort of thing is probably dead, but it won't be 3G or cell services that kills it, more likely a new technology that's more appropriate to the challenge. But, just because it's probably not going to be city wide doesn't mean it's shouldn't be a part of the solution, there's lots of places where it can be useful. I'd love to have access in the bus tunnel and at the various major transfer points as well as some of the more open parks. And I really hope that once the current budget crisis is over, Metro could go back to putting it on our buses, that always seemed like a great idea, just probably not yet cost effective.
  • by quercus.aeternam (1174283) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @08:00PM (#29408779) Homepage

    Take a look at http://devicescape.com/ [devicescape.com]

    It auto logins to APs with web-based login screens.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @08:02PM (#29408787)
    What you're referring to is the biggest problem with WiFi there isn't really enough intelligence built into it for those sorts of densely packed situations. It's not really meant to have more than about 3 routers within range of each other, and even then only if their really spread out on the spectrum due to the overlap on some channels.

    If somebody manages to solve that in a reasonably cost effective way, the likelihood of a city wide WiFi set up will dramatically improve.
  • by quenda (644621) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:24PM (#29409315)

    So long as 3G providers continue to charge $50/month on top of already overpriced voice plans and cap data usage at 5 GB/month,

    They do? I pay A$5, plus 1.5c/MB. Why is the US market so averse to pay-for-what-you-use?
    A few hundred MB / month gets me lots of email, web, VoIP, navigation. OK, not a lot of high-def you-tube clips or Linux upgrades, but you don't need that when mobile.

    3G is no substitute for a proper data pipe.

    At 2Mbps real (up to 14 on new standards) it is faster than most public wifi that I have seen, and faster than ADSL in many places. Maybe it is just your local network that is slow and expensive?

  • by ctmurray (1475885) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @10:00PM (#29409509) Journal
    A buddy of mine lives in Minneapolis in a stucco house. The chicken wire mesh used to hold the stucco onto the house acts as an EMI cage. So he has to be sitting next to a window to get the city WiFi. In this case I wouldn't blame the vendor specifically. But others commenting might be correct about other flaws in the system. I just think the house design for much of residential MPLS might be a contributing factor.
  • Re:Bellevue, WA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tetsukaze (1635797) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @11:37PM (#29410049)
    A wealthy city in spitting distance of Microsoft is investing in a buzz technology? Something tells me this is not a valid indicator for other cities.
  • Re:Philadelphia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:26AM (#29411183) Journal

    And the reason is Philly deployed its wifi the wrong way --- all the antennas they used are of the cheap kind, plus they never even bother to amplify their signals so that more people can access to it

    But then... it's Philly we are talking about, a city which is dying, in a country which is dying

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