Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Fresh Breeze--Is It Wireless?

When the sun is shining and a breeze is blowing gently through the trees, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to pack up your laptop and finish work at an outdoor café or park? That's the promise of wireless Internet access, or at least the idyll many people make of it. Let's extend the fantasy one step further--why not make the service free of charge?

What's the reality of ubiquitous broadband Internet access, and how much of this daydream is really possible?

Consumers soon will be able to get what some are calling "personal broadband," or high-speed Internet access everywhere they go. Wireless broadband networks are starting to be pieced together in a more visible way, with service providers such as Sprint Nextel and Clearwire building towers, Intel manufacturing chips, Samsung and Motorola supplying devices. About 56 million Americans--28 percent of the country’s population--have devices enabled for wireless Internet access.

At the same time, mobile consumer and business applications are flourishing. Mobile and wireless technology is being used in supply-chain management, sale force automation, inventory management, facilities management, point-of-care administration, law enforcement, and scientific data collection applications. Mobility is causing yet another paradigm shift equivalent to when people went from using stand-alone personal computers to accessing the Internet.

Wireless broadband Internet access is moving into Tacoma in a big way this month. Clearwire is launching their service tomorrow, which requires a modem and a monthly fee for very reliable service over a proprietary frequency. Free service is promised from an emerging partnership between the Rainier Communications Commission and CenturyTel, with the pilot project launching in Steilacoom soon, but further details are still pending...

According to a report published in September by the Federal Trade Commission, there are several problems with the business models currently underwriting munciipal networks, including questionable economic feasibility. According to the report, computer users can generally only access the Internet with a high-speed wireless connection if they are within 300 feet of an antenna--that means up to about 30 antennas per square mile, a considerable investment.

Local media have been generous with their praise for the RCC pilot project but generally dismissive of Clearwire's service. We're clearly still a long way from the warm weather idyll, but how far are we from unwiring our growing downtown?


  1. Anonymous6:35 PM

    I adore free, accessible wireless access. It enables me, for example, to go out and take pictures, load them on my laptop, do whatever imaging treatments I desire, then upload them to my website within a few minutes.

    Okay, so this is really just a matter of personal convenience and while municipal wifi will certainly influence MY approach to projects that benefit from this kind of connectivity, it's difficult to see how it might introduce any value to the entity that operates the closest tower.

    As "joe consumer" I can't justify paying my household broadband connection AND a remote service. Yet if there was a significant savings for some of those commercial users that you mentioned, Paul, perhaps they could subsidize my individual use.

    "Excuse me brother, could you spare some bandwidth?"

  2. Having free wireless downtown would be a boon. Many cities have it.