In the aftermath of the last man standing, MetroFi, announcing its metro-scale Wi-Fi endgame, three useful essays have appeared: If you're trying to understand the past, present, and future of the space, I recommend you read these short opinion pieces.
First, Karl Edwards of Excelsio, a firm that consults on municipal broadband, lays out a pretty straight case as to why EarthLink, Kite, and MetroFi's networks, among other one-offs, were designed to fail. I've written about aspects of this over the last four years, but Edwards is succinct. In part, EarthLink offering to build Philadelphia's network at no cost to the city set the mold wrong for all networks to follow. We're resetting now, and Wi-Fi's moment may have passed.
Edwards offers as one the constraints set by cities, "Expectation that the network would cover 90-95% of the City with wireless coverage as opposed to just in the areas where there was a solid business case." This has been a problem I've had for a couple of years when it started to become clear that 90-plus percent coverage wasn't in the interest of the ISP--nor in the city's interest because these networks couldn't be completed.
Edwards also notes that when consulting for Grand Rapids, Mich., which chose Clearwire as its wireless partner, EarthLink told the city that they expected a conservative 22-percent uptake for their Wi-Fi service by end of the fourth year. Given that in mature markets, a high-single-digit uptake is considered very good, that's shows how the Excel spreadsheets were skewed. USI Wireless's estimates for break-even require less than 10 percent of the population in their covered areas to subscribe, and their numbers of subscribers to date are tracking that number closely.
He closes with a set of eight principles for wireless network builders to come to the table with and cities to adopt, all of which I agree with.
Next, Esme Vos suggests a very modest proposal: San Francisco should have required all its cafes to offer free Wi-Fi, and then Fon or others could have aggregated and bundled access to these locations. There's a long set of comments accusing Esme of communism, socialism, utopianism, and other isms. The post and the comments make for lively reading.
Finally, Craig Plunkett, who operates hotspot networks around New York City and Long Island, chimes in with a summary of these opinions and the notion that muni-Fi jumped the shark when Ocean City, N.J., decided to put Wi-Fi in garbage cans. He points out that "an infill strategy" of providing service where needed and then extending from there is effective.