Email Delivery

Receive new posts as email.

Email address

Syndicate this site

RSS | Atom


About This Site
Contact Us
Privacy Policy


November 2010
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

Stories by Category

Basics :: Basics
Casting :: Casting Listen In Podcasts Videocasts
Culture :: Culture Hacking
Deals :: Deals
Future :: Future
Hardware :: Hardware Adapters Appliances Chips Consumer Electronics Gaming Home Entertainment Music Photography Video Gadgets Mesh Monitoring and Testing PDAs Phones Smartphones
Industry :: Industry Conferences Financial Free Health Legal Research Vendor analysis
International :: International
Media :: Media Locally cached Streaming
Metro-Scale Networks :: Metro-Scale Networks Community Networking Municipal
Network Types :: Network Types Broadband Wireless Cellular 2.5G and 3G 4G Power Line Satellite
News :: News Mainstream Media
Politics :: Politics Regulation Sock Puppets
Schedules :: Schedules
Security :: Security 802.1X
Site Specific :: Site Specific Administrative Detail April Fool's Blogging Book review Cluelessness Guest Commentary History Humor Self-Promotion Unique Wee-Fi Who's Hot Today?
Software :: Software Open Source
Spectrum :: Spectrum 60 GHz
Standards :: Standards 802.11a 802.11ac 802.11ad 802.11e 802.11g 802.11n 802.20 Bluetooth MIMO UWB WiGig WiMAX ZigBee
Transportation and Lodging :: Transportation and Lodging Air Travel Aquatic Commuting Hotels Rails
Unclassified :: Unclassified
Vertical Markets :: Vertical Markets Academia Enterprise WLAN Switches Home Hot Spot Aggregators Hot Spot Advertising Road Warrior Roaming Libraries Location Medical Public Safety Residential Rural SOHO Small-Medium Sized Business Universities Utilities wISP
Voice :: Voice


November 2010 | October 2010 | September 2010 | August 2010 | July 2010 | June 2010 | May 2010 | April 2010 | March 2010 | February 2010 | January 2010 | December 2009 | November 2009 | October 2009 | September 2009 | August 2009 | July 2009 | June 2009 | May 2009 | April 2009 | March 2009 | February 2009 | January 2009 | December 2008 | November 2008 | October 2008 | September 2008 | August 2008 | July 2008 | June 2008 | May 2008 | April 2008 | March 2008 | February 2008 | January 2008 | December 2007 | November 2007 | October 2007 | September 2007 | August 2007 | July 2007 | June 2007 | May 2007 | April 2007 | March 2007 | February 2007 | January 2007 | December 2006 | November 2006 | October 2006 | September 2006 | August 2006 | July 2006 | June 2006 | May 2006 | April 2006 | March 2006 | February 2006 | January 2006 | December 2005 | November 2005 | October 2005 | September 2005 | August 2005 | July 2005 | June 2005 | May 2005 | April 2005 | March 2005 | February 2005 | January 2005 | December 2004 | November 2004 | October 2004 | September 2004 | August 2004 | July 2004 | June 2004 | May 2004 | April 2004 | March 2004 | February 2004 | January 2004 | December 2003 | November 2003 | October 2003 | September 2003 | August 2003 | July 2003 | June 2003 | May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | April 2002 | March 2002 | February 2002 | January 2002 | December 2001 | November 2001 | October 2001 | September 2001 | August 2001 | July 2001 | June 2001 | May 2001 | April 2001 |

Recent Entries

In-Flight Wi-Fi and In-Flight Bombs
Can WPA Protect against Firesheep on Same Network?
Southwest Sets In-Flight Wi-Fi at $5
Eye-Fi Adds a View for Web Access
Firesheep Makes Sidejacking Easy
Wi-Fi Direct Certification Starts
Decaf on the Starbucks Digital Network
Google Did Snag Passwords
WiMax and LTE Not Technically 4G by ITU Standards
AT&T Wi-Fi Connections Keep High Growth with Free Service

Site Philosophy

This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.


Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.

Powered by
Movable Type

« Phila. Gives Up on EarthLink | Main | Wee-Fi: Go, Go, Wires! Go, Go, Cablevision! »

May 15, 2008

MetroFi Plans Market Exit: Sale or Shutter

MetroFi will sell its networks, but plans to shutter if there are no buyers: Ah, folks, the trifecta has arrived, and I'm nothing but sad about it. MetroFi's chief Chuck Haas emailed me this evening with the news that his firm has decided that they will sell their networks in nine cities, including their first cities in the Bay Area (Cupertino, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale), and their largest muni deployment in Portland, Ore. If no buyers emerge--including the cities in question--Haas said that MetroFi would have a shutdown plan for gradually unlighting the networks. Update: Portland has been offered its network for $894,000; the city is "considering it."

MetroFi was one of the three most prominent pure play metro-scale Wi-Fi firms, if you count EarthLink's municipal wireless division as a separate operation, and Kite Networks, which was a subsidiary of a larger telecom firm. Each company had made a unique network hardware choice--MetroFi, SkyPilot; Kite, Strix; and EarthLink Tropos plus Motorola--and each had a sort of specialty. Interestingly, a fifth firm, BelAir powers Toronto (a small but super-fast Wi-Fi network) and Minneapolis (the only putatively completed large-city Wi-Fi network), and will be behind Cablevision's nearly $350m New York Wi-Fi plan.

MetroFi was the only major firm to back ad-supported no-fee access, coupled with paid, no-ads service, and higher tiered commercial offerings. They built mostly smaller cities, with Portland being their only real big city win. The firm began with the notion of building Wi-Fi out gradually as a way to provide broadband in communities that lacked service, with no municipal involvement. That plan required sparser networks and typically a home signal booster designed by SkyPilot. (Kite mostly focused on the Southwest; EarthLink on big cities.)

EarthLink was in many ways largely responsible for the mess that all Wi-Fi providers found themselves in last year by offering to build Philadelphia's network back in 2005 at no cost to the city--in fact, paying the city and the local utility fees. That set the stage for nearly all the RFPs that followed where, if EarthLink were a bidder or the city was aware of the alternatives, the notion was that no city dollars would be spent, even if taxpayer money wasn't "at risk"--that is, even if a city could save money by switching current line items in their telecom and data budget to a wireless network.

Haas noted via email that MetroFi has been working towards anchor commitments by cities for nearly two years, but the inertia of those early networks led municipalities to reject those options. In Toledo, where MetroFi had negotiated an anchor commitment, a change in administration led a new mayor to retreat from the plan.

Is there a future for metro-scale Wi-Fi? Yes. With thoughtfully constructed, outdoor-focused deployments centered on municipal purposes, with public access a secondary issue, it seems like these networks could still provide an inexpensive way for relatively high bandwidth compared to the alternative of cell data networks.

However, that advantage is likely short lived in larger markets. The near-future certainty now that there will be multiple provides offering wired broadband speed service starting later this year with Sprint/Clearwire's WiMax, and continuing through into 2012 with significant network buildout by Verizon and AT&T in several bands (including their new 700 MHz holdings).

While Sprint/Clearwire is talking about 120m to 140m homes passed by 2010 with their network, obviously focusing only on major markets, many of the 700 MHz licenses purchased by AT&T and Verizon carry buildout requirements with penalties. So cities outside the top 100 population markets and rural areas will still see some benefit. In those mid-tier markets, there's also the 3.65 GHz band for shared licensed use, which is a model that Azulstar is pursuing with new WiMax deployments, as I wrote about recently.

Competition will likely push the cost of mobile broadband far below its $60 per month 2-year contract rate of today, which then would beg the question why a city or county with good commercial coverage would need to build its own Wi-Fi network. There are still plenty of reasons to build dedicated, first-responder 4.9 GHz public safety networks, of course.

I've always described Wi-Fi on a metropolitan scale as the best, worst technology. The best, because everyone has Wi-Fi in their laptops and increasingly in handhelds and gadgets. The worst, because the technology is absolutely not designed for the purpose, unlike CDMA and GSM evolved cell standards and mobile WiMax.

It's possible that in the long term, looking five years out, that Wi-Fi on a metro-scale will only be needed in small towns, odd markets, and for highly particular purposes. Or, perhaps in a bit of irony, where companies like Cablevision feel Wi-Fi is necessary to retain the loyalty of their highly wired customer base.


Glenn it is painful to see Metrofi go as it was only a matter of time before this market swung back their way. Metrofi faced headwinds from the bad Earthlink deal and poor network performance vs. St Louis as you point out, but also did not have chicken/egg problem solved on ad support yet. They are on a good path to solve all three; unfortunately they could not last through the other side.

I disagree with your assessment that wifi is going to be a small town solution. Wifi (.11n) offers 1G shared bandwidth (in properly deployed networks) for 100Ms devices and no spectrum cost - Today! The wimax guys will be the ATM of the late 1990's - a technology that is over engineered, late, and very expensive. .16e (mobile wimax) will not be at critical mass of roll out until 2012 at the earliest and the CPE, spectrum, and equipment are all prohibitively expensive. Further, it will only offer 1/10 the capacity of wifi and early tests have shown the technology is no better at handoffs at 50 mph or higher than wifi.

My bet is Cablevision crushes the Sprint/Clearwire group grope (-; You already see AT&T (Starbucks mesh for iphone data offload) and the other MSOs following Cablevision�s lead to deploy metro scale wifi today. The rebirth of metro wifi will be robust over the next three years as these networks get built out for various reasons(muni services; data offload; and quad play services). This will be long before WiMax or LTE has a chance to get of the ground. All you have to look at is Cablevision�s 2 year plan to build out their entire footprint to see that the quad service network will be a Flat, Open, and all IP Network (FOIN) The days of proprietary special wireless expensive protocols that are dreamed up by the likes of Verizon and Qualcomm as a way to lock out competition and restrict service are coming to the end. The same way the volume and cost of Ethernet eventually killed Token Ring, X.25, Frame Relay, ATM, etc; Wifi will consume/adapt and eventually kill EVDO, HSDPA, WiMax, LTE, etc. It is interesting that Cablevision is the first carrier to realize this.

Don�t give up the faith, we are still in the early innings of this game!

There are a couple of different but interrelated questions about "metro-scale WiFi"; one is a technology question and one is a business model question.

There are strong indications that the business model as implemented by Earthlink, MuniFi, et. al., doesn't work. But the technology model for metro-scale WiFi as an access mechanism is still thought, at least by some, to be viable; witness Cablevision's announcement, plus AT&T has gone live on some metro-scale WiFi networks (St. Louis, San Antonio) offered as an adjunct to their other services. [Editor's note: St. Louis wasn't built; utility pole problems. San Antonio has been scaled back to mostly the river walk--gf]

I think it's foolish to believe that WiFi will kill off all other wireless data technologies; the effective range of WiFi would require far, far too high cell density to be cost effective for coverage on a nationwide basis. On the other hand, I think it's foolish to believe that other wireless data technologies will kill off WiFi, because WiFi offers advantages for certain applications (high user and traffic density in a limited area) that will be hard for other technologies to meet.

The technologies are to some extent complementary, and you'll see multi-mode devices smart enough to pick the best available network (free WiFi, commercial WiFi, cellular data) at a given time.

I've had a little time to think about this and as we discussed, WiFi would be a competitor to bigger systems. However, I still believe there are many untapped markets and applications where WiFi has a significant advantage. Everybody assumed that WiFi was for reaching Internet with some people adding in meter reading and other city services without really knowing how all of that works together. Everybody assumed that city WiFi systems all had to be a mesh design which eliminated many other options and drove the Capital Expenditure through the roof.

We stepped out of this industry 4 years ago because of MetroFi and Earthlink. Since then we have deployed smaller scale systems based on a metropolitan design. In fact, we are deploying our third generation design in one location right now. Now that reality has finally hit the market, we will start installing our systems around Arizona to show that you didn't need a $2000-$5000 AP to make this work. In fact, it can be done for less than $5000 per square mile or less depenging on the specifications.

With all the new technologies, WiFi is now the bottom feeder. It's cheap to deploy, manage, and integrate into other technologies. Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't bragging if you can do it". It's time for real wireless networks to get deployed by responsible companies with technology and marketing experience from the real world.

It's very much about a viable business model, not technology. The cost of the install is much more expensive than initially estimated. It's not so much the number of sites, but the cost per site that was underestimated for many metro deployments. The equipment and labor costs were predictable, but the number of labor hours required, permits, red tape, roof rights, pole rights, electric supply, backhaul, etc ate the providers alive. On the other hand of the equation is revenue. The cities have no money and the end customer has no money. The customers require a reliable network and customer care. But they expect all these things for FREE. I suspect that these expectations that are being set by various pundits that really don't have an idea of the costs involved in such a project. It's my guess that the technology would work just fine if it were not for absurd money pressures from both sides, preventing a viable business model.