Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Will Muni Fail?

With stories like these from Phillie, you have to wonder. Now EarthLink pulling back on its Muni Wireless plans. Is that the end? Probably for ELN, it is. (For Sale signs are popping up in ATL, San Jose, San Francisco, Pasadena, Orlando, Vancouver (WA)) Techliberation writes:

EarthLink appears to be getting out of the muni wi-fi business for good. The company is at least abandoning the major Philadelphia experiment it was in charge of.

Muni itself isn't dead. It's doing some re-examination. It needs some re-invention. Free doesn't work well. Neither does: Build-it-and-they-will-come. As many dot com companies learned (and some Web 2.0 companies will soon learn), there has to be demand in order to collect revenues. For free, people will sign up and maybe use it occassionally. But how to convert those not-really interested users into paying customers is the KEY. Advertising revenue is nice, but we have seen numerous companies with the advertising bar disappear over time. I agree with Andy Abramson:

The writing has been on the wall. That said, the problem is that the genie is out of the bottle in cities where they have deployed and unfortunately Muni WiFi is looking more and more like the second coming of Metricom's Ricochet. Great idea. Flawed execution and way too much money spent by high flying, fast spending executives, instead of real common sense, where's the market reality.

So cities and towns will have to look for an anchor tenant - either a government agency with field poeple, a utility, or a public safety / EMS / police use for the network. Then the network can provide free access to some areas. Ubiquious indoor coverage is unrealistic. (Your cellular networks can barely be used indoor and they have licensed frequency and higher power). So the realities have to be seen and accepted, then Muni Wi-Fi can move forward.

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