TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Short Range Wi-Fi Meets Citywide Limits

Short Range Wi-Fi Meets Citywide Limits

Anick Jesdanun, AP (
Mon, 21 May 2007 13:45:58 -0500

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer

Adam DuVander likes to surf the Internet from his laptop wherever he
happens to be -- at home, a coffee shop or a neighborhood park. He has
been able to do so in recent years thanks to wireless hotspots set up by
networking activists in Portland, Ore.

So when Portland announced it would try to blanket the entire city with
similar Wi-Fi technology, the Web programmer and blogger got excited --
until he tried using it.

"For me ubiquitous access means I don't have to base my life around
wherever my office is," DuVander said. "I tried it out as soon as I
could and found that it wasn't for me. The quality of the connection
is not up to my standards."

Blame physics and the use of a short-range technology designed for
smaller quarters, not citywide deployments.

Simply put, signals don't travel far or penetrate building walls well.

That's fine for a coffee shop. The equipment is indoors, as are its
users. That's also fine for a park. There are enough users
concentrated there to justify installing a lot of wireless antennas.

But it wouldn't be economical to place an access point inside every home
and on every street lamp.

Portland's contractor, MetroFi Inc., is putting roughly 25 access
points per square mile, so that users would generally be no farther
than 500 feet from the nearest one, said Logan Kleier, the city's
manager for the Unwired Portland project.

Cutting that distance in half, to 250 feet, would require about four
times as many access points, because they need to be installed in all
four directions.

"The network cost gets completely out of whack," he said. "The
business model breaks in its entirety."

Network operators, meanwhile, are recommending signal boosters for as
much as $150 to get indoor coverage. Many people in Portland and
elsewhere plan to stick with their existing DSL or cable provider

An emerging technology called WiMax -- promising much longer ranges --
might be able to blanket a larger area more easily than Wi-Fi can.
Sprint Nextel Corp. already has announced plans to offer WiMax service
in several cities by next year, with initial deployments this year in
Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

But Wi-Fi still has its advantages. It's been around longer so the
technology is stable and equipment relatively cheap.

And although Wi-Fi continues to evolve -- an industry group will soon
start certifying products under its emerging, faster "n" flavor --
devices made tomorrow will likely work with networks built today. On the
network side, some equipment can be upgraded by pushing new software
remotely, said Esme Vos, an expert on municipal Wi-Fi systems.

Regardless of the specific wireless technology, though, wired services
remain a better choice over wireless for many basic needs. Wired
networks are generally faster and have fewer security risks. Prices
for DSL, in particular, have dropped.

Wireless networks are good as backups during emergencies and away from
home, but "it's very hard to have a wireless network compete as a
primary connection," said Dave Burstein, editor of the industry
newsletter DSL Prime. "Where you have a choice, DSL or cable compared
to wireless, you are going to go for DSL or cable unless it's
ridiculously overpriced."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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