Superb article in The Boston Globe on the state and future of Wi-Fi and wireless in Our Fair City: I'm not a resident of Bean Town--which no one there every calls it, I know--but I'm a great fan of the city and have long been following Michael Oh's efforts to spread free, commercially backed Wi-Fi. He's profiled in this long and well-researched article. It lacks the flaws that many similar articles have had: it's technically accurate, paints a broad picture, and doesn't try to be too cute about the technology and its implications.
I'm not sure I buy that there will be 130,000 hotspots in the US by the end of 2005, but the number won't be an order of magnitude off. JiWire.com says there are over 20,000 now. I'd ballpark it at 30,000 to 40,000 depending on how you count all the one-offs and special cases. Based on targets set by T-Mobile, Wayport, SBC, and Sprint, hitting 75,000 by year's end seems possible.
One Boston city councilor wants to emulate other cities planning metropolitan-area Wi-Fi networks and have Boston jump onto that bandwagon. I hope he knows what he's getting into. The Beacon Hill Institute, which issued a negative report last year on municipal cable and broadband (looking almost exclusively at fiber-optic systems) is just over the Charles River from him at Suffolk University.
Tobin cites the same vague desire to bridge the digital divide that I've heard elsewhere, but I haven't seen any statistics that show that improving Internet access helps school test results, increase income, reduces crime, increase employment, or improves literacy. Does anyone have studies that show positive outcomes? Or any outcomes? It all seems a little nebulous. I disagree with those that say that $2,000 computers are needed to use Wi-Fi networks--about $150 would buy a refurbished computer and a Wi-Fi card--but I do wonder how the digital divide is spanned when you throw computers and broadband at folks.
Boston has unwired all of its municipal libraries and is experimenting with adding free Wi-Fi in city-owned buildings. The local transportation authority is planning to add Wi-Fi to the local subway and rail system, the T.
The article concludes with a lovely set of musings on the nature of human interaction, and a suggestion that Wi-Fi hotspots encourage a kind of interaction through solitude in the midst of community.