Municipal Wireless Service

When Philadelphia decided to go wireless, there was much controversy with some carriers questioning the move. (See also this New York Times article.) Now, AT&T is involved in helping bring municipal wireless to Springfield, Ill and Riverside, Calif. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article on municipal wireless, contracts are taking about six months to negotiate with cities and about six to twelve months to roll out in cities the size of Tempe, Ariz. (If you have an online subscription, you might also want to view this WSJ report on wireless technologies.)

As municipal wireless systems are rolled out, ideas about how to use such networks at the urban level will multiply. It is anybody's guess whether any useful ideas will be harvested. Most probably, without citizen involvement, such harvests may bear less tasty fruit. In a sense, as the municipal wireless network becomes part of our urban fabric, the form and texture will depend on citizen involvement. (How much more effective would such networks have been if we actually had a good public transaportation system broadly available everywhere in California!)

The WSJ article also notes that, in Tempe, "[t]he police department now loves the system, which also has become a surprise hit with the town's traffic engineers." The cities are interested in bringing free or cheap wireless service to the citizens and in new urban applications while the companies involved need a business model that leaves them something to sustain and justify their business.

(Here, I should also thank the Silicon Valley-China Wireless Technology Association's president and my friend, Wen Pai Lu, who invited me to the 2006 Annual SVCWireless Conference: "Mobile Life: The Road to Freedom." This gave me an opportunity to hear representatives from a group of companies and city officials involved in municipal wireless roll-outs discuss their first-hand experience in defining the relevant business models.)
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