Efforts to offer free public Wi-Fi in US cities have hit problems: the operator has abandoned one city project, while technical glitches have been revealed at an earlier pioneer.
MobilePro has pulled out of a contract to provide Wi-Fi in Sacramento, claiming that the city council changed the terms. Meanwhile, the former IT manager of Chaska, Minnesota has admitted that the pioneering Wi-Fi network there didn't actually work very well.
Instead of signing as an "anchor tenant", paying for its own Wi-Fi use, Sacramento city council demanded that the free wireless network for its citizens be supported by advertising revenue, says MobilePro, according to a report in Unstrung. As well as the money, speed is at issue, with MobilePro offering 56 kbit/s to the poorer residents, and the city asking for 300 kbit/s.
"We can't spend millions on a citywide deployment, plus annual operating costs of possibly millions more, and not make any type of returns except on advertising," says Jerry Sullivan, in a story in Unstrung.
The city, which already has a pilot network in Cesar Chavez Plaza Park, built by Mobile Pro with Strix equipment, claims it is just asking to update the contract in line with the one signed in May at Philadelphia, or San Francisco, where Google and Earthlink expect to fund a free 300 kbit/s network form advertising. With MobilePro out of the picture, it will issue a new RFP.
Meanwhile, Bradley Mayer, who was IT manager of Chaska, Minnesota, has revealed that Chaska's public Wi-Fi network, which was often cited as a pioneer, didn't actually work at the time.
"It took about a year and a half before we felt we really had a good handle on the network," said Mayer, in an article in the Chicago Tribune. Apparently, the speed was poor and subscribers had trouble getting onto the network, until it moved to a newer version of the Tropos hardware in the network.
"However good they claim things are now, it certainly looks like it was a disaster until just recently," wireless analyst Derek Kerton, and long term sceptic of municipal networks based on Wi-Fi, comments in Techdirt.
Chaska ran into trouble with issues like Wi-Fi absorption in wet leafy trees, and stucco walls - issues which were well known years ago, according to Glenn Fleishman, in the WiFi Net News blog.
These difficulties and delays may work in favour of public Wi-Fi in the end, says Fleishman, by allowing cities to get more up-to-date networks and avoid re-inventing the wheel.
"With public funds involved, there should be plenty of time for review and for critique of business plans, some of which seemed too enthusiastic to start with," says Fleishman. "Even when public funds aren’t used to build the network, public dollars will be used to pay for telecom services contracted with a winning bidder."
Technology is changing fast too. "Building a network in 2006 may not make as much sense as having built it in 2004 or 2005," says Fleishman, warning that going too soon might cut out benefits from WiMax, MIMO or 802.11n.
"Now it seems that the pace of government wins over the pace of technology in the end," says Fleishman. "That could be a good thing. Enough delays could give time for plans to be revised to incorporate 21st century technology instead of good old last century’s 802.11a, b, and g."