Monday, May 21, 2007

Municipal wireless broadband off to inauspicious start

"I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers' money," said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. "The government is getting into hotly contested services."

The vendors remain confident despite technical and other problems. Chuck Haas, MetroFi Inc.'s chief executive, said Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper to build than cable and DSL, which is broadband over phone lines.

Demand could grow once more cell phones can make Wi-Fi calls and as city workers improve productivity by reading electric meters remotely, for instance.

Balhoff, however, believes the successful projects are most likely to be in remote places that traditional service providers skip — and fewer and fewer of those areas exist. Cities, he said, should focus on incentives to draw providers.


I think Balhoff's called it right. In more densely populated areas where municipal wireless broadband Internet access is being deployed, residents generally have one or more wireline broadband providers -- telcos and cable companies -- whose speeds and reliability can often exceed those offered by wireless systems.

At present, wireless broadband appears most suited to the plains and deserts -- relatively less populated regions in the heartland and the southwest -- where both economics and relatively flat terrain make it a viable option for the relatively near future.


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