Google's Mountain View muni-WiFi falls short

All is not well in Mountain View. We are not saying anything bad about this quiet city of about 70,000, sitting within view of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west (hence, the city's name). Rather, we note that the residents of the city are not at all satisfied with the touted Google-supported municipal WiFi network. Unstrung's Richard Martin reports that citizens complain that the signal is weak or non-existent; that they may get a connection in the yard or on the balcony, but not in their living rooms; or that the Google-recommended gear does not work.

Google technicians, using the company's bulletin board, have responded that the system is "primarily an outdoor network" and that signal strength depends on the power of the user's antenna. The company recommends that for indoor use, subscribers buy "a high-power WiFi modem." The company's technicians also said the company would soon install more nodes to address the problem of network dead zones, and would also consider deploying gear at some apartment complexes to improve reception for residents.

Martin notes that the question of the network's effectiveness in Mountain View is important because Google has treated-- and promoted--the Tropos-supplied network as a showcase for its municipal networking technology. Mountain View is not the only city running into glitches installing muni-WiFi networks, but Google's involvement magnifies everything it touches. Moreover, skeptics are not unjustified in pointing out that if Mountain View, a well-to-do, mid-size Silicon Valley city of technology early adopters, cannot get good service, this does not bode well for larger cities with more varied communities.

Indeed, Google critics in San Francisco have already taken to highlighting the Mountain View experience as one reason why the city should take a harder look at the muni-WiFi network Google and EarthLink are offering to build there.

For more on Mountain View's muni-WiFi:
- see Richard Martin's Unstrung report