Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Model For Expanded WiFi Coverage (But Not For Everyone)

Google and a few tech companies joined together in a nonprofit organization to cover Milpitas, California with free WiFi access.  Google and a few big companies like Intel and Microsoft are actively pursuing technology to use white space for wireless broadband access.

In the meantime, WiFi is the best thing going for wireless access and under the agreement, the city would use the group for technical support and to run the service.  In return, access would be provided to the local government and the city's residents.

The WiFi coverage for Milpitas was originally an Earthlink sponsored project.  These days, Earthlink has had problems keeping its promises with respects to wireless access.  Ask Philly.  Nevertheless, Google decided this is too important to let go.  Milpitas may not be as famous as Redmond and Cupertino but it is home to little known companies like Sandisk, Cisco, Seagate, and Creative.  Maybe you've heard of them.

I've often wonder, however, just how such an endeavor is possible in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or other major cities without a centralized population.  I've worked in downtown Los Angeles, on the Westside, Compton, near LAX, and other parts of South Central.

We are talking about miles and miles.  And if a major city like Los Angeles wanted to pursue such a venture, just where would it start?  Near schools and areas where broadband access is traditionally poor or difficult gain?

Just for a bit of perspective, here is some data on the cities:

  • Milpitas - 13.6 sq miles, pop. 63K, 4.6K/sq mi, 
  • Philadelphia - 135 sq miles, pop. 1.5M, pop density 11K/sq mi
  • Los Angeles - 498 sq miles, pop. 3.85M, pop density 8.2K/sq mi
  • Torrance, CA - 20. sq miles, pop. 138K, pop density, 6.7K/sq mi

The data are only for the population in the city and if we were to count those in the urban parts, Los Angeles' population grew to almost 18 million while Philadeliphia nears 6 million.  Based on population density, it is entirely possible.

The Philadelphia network costed Earthlink $17 million and it was not completed.  For my city of Torrance and Milpitas, the cost would be conceivably lower and with local business support, it is a sustainable project.  There is no cost associated with a Los Angeles WiFi network when it was announced by its mayor.  But based on the cost for the Philadelphia network, the cost for LA maybe $42 million ($2000 ea wifi node x 42 nodes x 500 sq mi).

It is a very daunting task and yet, it is something that must be done.  Previously, we equated providing national wireless coverage to the national healthcare issue and I can't help break away from that though.  I don't know if it's fair to ask corporations to foot the bills and I'm sure Google and its associates are necessarily doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.  Just imagine the amount of good will they'll receive.

Perhaps though, Google and its partners recognize the need as we do at Onxo that a connected population, preferably wirelessly, is key and important to fostering a workforce locally in the the US and sustaining the talent they'll need in an increasingly competitive global economy.

And if they have to, they'll do it one city at a time.

Note:  Google already provides Mountainview with WiFi access.  Also, over 500 cities have expressed interested or have plans to create their own public WiFi network.

Related Articles:

  • Daily Wireless on Philly's WiFi Letdown
  • Onxo:  Wireless Access Like Healthcare
  • CNet:  Private Investors Saves Philadelphia WiFi

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