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Muni Wi-Fi: Not As Good As It Gets

Posted by: Olga Kharif on March 28, 2007

The results are in. After testing some muni Wi-Fi networks, three independent industry researchers have found that most cities’ networks offer inadequate security, poor coverage and don’t even support voice (and voice is the main reason people say they want to use Wi-Fi in the first place). Only 20% of municipal networks tested supported voice services over Wi-Fi.

Clearly, muni Wi-Fi, in its current state, isn’t working. And the cities are to blame: Once they award their Wi-Fi network build-out contracts, they tend to adapt a hands-off approach. In her blog today, Esme Vos, the muni Wi-Fi guru, suggests that, instead, cities need to conduct independent network testing to make sure their Wi-Fi vendors’ networks actually do what they’ve promised. Clearly, right now, most muni Wi-Fi networks would fail that test.

Reader Comments

Mr. Snarky

March 28, 2007 7:33 PM

Maybe these folks should just pay for it like everyone else instead of feeding at the welfare trough.

Esme Vos

March 29, 2007 3:25 AM

Almost all US cities and counties setting up networks do not use taxpayer money, so their partners, the private providers, are paying for it. And when they provide some level of free service (alongside their paid service), that free component is funded by advertising, so yes, someone - the advertiser is paying for it. Where the cities use taxpayer funds, the networks are run anyway by private companies hired by the city and the equipment comes from vendors. So ultimately private firms benefit too. I'm amazed that cities call broadband infrastructure an absolute necessity, yet they can find millions of dollars for sports stadiums, whose benefit to the entire community is questionable.

enrico blandin

March 29, 2007 2:00 PM

This is by far the best Wi-Fi company I've encountered! Once you're at the home page click on connect and register then download the software(for free) and you'll certainly be pleased!!

Kirby Russell, Director of Product Marketing, Strix Systems

April 6, 2007 2:54 PM

I'd like to address a few of the issues you brought up-that muni Wi-Fi networks don't support voice, that security is poor, and that cities are to blame for muni Wi-Fi problems. It's important to understand that muni Wi-Fi is still in its infancy; most municipalities are implementing it to provide free and paid Internet access to residents and 24/7 access for their police and fire departments.

In these early stages, responsibility for technologies that support low-latency applications such as VoIP falls on integrators. However, municipalities need to take a stake in their Wi-Fi networks early on so they can understand the technology and operate the network without the support of the integrator. The first step is delivery of internet services, but once the network is up and running, the goal of the municipality should be to deliver higher-value services such as voice.

Integrators can chose from single-, dual-, and multi-radio Wi-Fi architectures. In one-radio architectures, the radio switches between access and backhaul, while in two-radio architectures one radio handles access and the other shares backhaul ingress and egress. Both architectures lead to bottlenecks and inefficiencies that increase latency. Some municipalities that use these architectures are criticized for their lack of voice support.


Multi-radio architectures solve the latency problem by providing dedicated radios for client access, ingress backhaul, and egress backhaul. The performance advantages are significant and allow municipalities to support a much broader range of applications, including VoIP.


Multi-radio architectures also include security functions such as automatic link encryption between multi-radio nodes, automatic blocking between users at different parts of the network, and multiple forms authentication and authorization. The degree to which municipalities and integrators implement security is a matter of choice.


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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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