It's not surprising to hear that more than a month after St. Cloud, FL, launched the country's first free citywide WiFi network, there are some major problems, including dead spots and weak signals. Just wait for the scrutiny when muni-WiFi systems in Philadelphia and San Francisco are launched.
It's just not as easy as municipalities think to launch a WiFi network citywide, and we have yet to see a public WiFi business model that has worked. Moreover, in a recent discussion with Rick Rotondo, head of marketing with Motorola's MeshNetworks Product Group, he said he is disappointed by the number of cities that think they can get an EarthLink-like company to come in and plop in a WiFi network and offer service for free. "I'm thinking more than a handful of these cities will be disappointed. It's unfortunate because there is a viable case for cities running networks and getting nice ROI. But they want free first, and I don't blame them," said Rotondo.
I do see a business case for muni WiFi if it's done with the proper expectations. But the bottom line is that can we expect to see a lot of these cities drastically change or scale back their muni-WiFi plans or scrap them altogether as they realize that the technology and business-plan challenges will be around for quite some time. As St. Cloud Mayor Donna Hart said in an AP article: "I think that it's going to be a major challenge, and it'll probably be a major challenge for some time until the technology is such that it works properly."
Clarification: Friday's Editor's Corner indicated that Switch-Mobile was a Cingular MVNO. In fact, it is working on an MVNO deal with a Cingular reseller, but the company's comments are still valid. - Lynnette