After the flameout, muni WiFi quietly hanging on

Industry watchers are well aware of the cautionary tale of muni WiFi. Like any good market fad, it burned fast and hot and then exploded in a very messy, public debacle. And that was the end of it, right?

Well, not quite. Despite getting tossed into the hype-cycle trashcan--along with MVNOs, DVB-H and other also-rans--municipal WiFi remains a quiet but steady fashion playing out in cities and towns across the United States. Examples of recent and continuing muni WiFi deployments are scattered throughout Oklahoma City, Minneapolis and elsewhere.

"It hasn't really gone away, and there are things going on," said Craig Settles, president of Successful.com and a longtime muni WiFi watcher. "These things have always been built on a sound premise, but they have been executed poorly."

Indeed, "executed poorly" is a bit of an understatement. As Settles explained, the muni WiFi trend captured the industry's imagination in 2007 when the city of Philadelphia and EarthLink struck a deal to build a city-wide WiFi network and offer free access to residents. The idea spread like wildfire, with vendors and cities jumping at the chance to provide unlimited Internet to all--and to make money doing it.

The issue became a serious concern, albeit briefly, to wireless wide area network operators that were at the time pouring billions of dollars into the rollout of high-speed, 3G networks. After all, who would pay for wireless data access when WiFi would be free?

Of course, the muni WiFi hoopla didn't last long. Costs were far greater than expected while the results--both in terms of usage and performance--were well below expectations. And, long story short, the market's two main vendors unceremoniously abandoned the space: EarthLink quit the business in February 2008 and MetroFi closed up shop around May of the same year.

But that's not quite the end of the story.

Today, a handful of cities continue to play with municipal WiFi deployments. Some boast of successes and expansions while others seem content to maintain the status quo. And, in some muni WiFi efforts across the country, questions about the network and the service remain.

Join us for a muni WiFi stroll across the country:


Maywood
Calif.


Mountain View
Calif.

Philadelphia
Pa.

Oklahoma City
Okla.

Minneapolis
Minn.
Click here for the conclusion

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