Chicago aims to be the First City of muni-WiFi

The Second City has every intention of becoming the First City -- the first city of muni-WiFi, that is. CHICAGO plans to overtake Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to become the biggest US municipality with city-wide wireless Internet access. Trouble is, skeptics suggest that the system may not work. "It's a leap of faith," says Yankee Group's Roberta Wiggins. "It's not really proven yet in a large place."

There currently about 300 US cities deploying or planning to deploy city-wide WiFi networks, and Chicago is the biggest of these. Mayor Richard Daley said he would make street poles available for antennas to provide free or low-cost high-speed Internet access to the city's 2.8 million residents in the hope of luring employers and improving schools.

The city authorities are in the final stages of preparing to formal announcement which will allow companies to place bids on the project. Smaller cities such as Rio Rancho, New Mexico, have networks, but it is not obvious that a system will work in a city of 596 square kilometers with signal-blocking skyscrapers, including the 443 meter Sears Tower. "There are a lot of technical issues, such as how signals bump around inside dense areas," says Paul Glenchur of Stanford Washington Research Group.

Even skeptics admit one thing: in the words of former mayor Richard J. Daley (father of today's mayor), Chicago is "The city that works." Glenchur agrees: "Chicago has a record of doing things well," he says. "They think of something that's an improvement for the people in the city and they make it happen."

Chicago wants a private-public partnership to build a network at no cost to taxpayers, says the draft request for bids. The city will let a company attach transmission nodes to lampposts and traffic signal poles and sell the use of the system to provide net access.

For more on Chicago
-see this The Australian report