Friday, November 24, 2006

Over the Horizon: MuniFi Promises to Bring New Opportunities and Challenges

A kind of geekish article by Om Malik on rapidly shifting technologies supporting municipal wirelesss Internet access prompted me to catch up on the world of WiFi a bit on a quiet post-Thanksgiving afternoon. A nice summary of recent news developments affecting WiFi provided by eWeek can be found here. In a nutshell muni WiFi is still taking baby steps but is beginning to spread through Silicon Valley communities fairly quickly, with some towns having their choice of networks from which to choose. While some major carriers are charging user USD 20 a month or so for town-wide access ad-supported systems by Google and others are also in play and gathering steam. One of the eWeek articles highlighted new fourth-generation wireless broadband equipment announced by Nortel that includes Internet everywhere, mobile video, VOIP, streaming media, data applications and mobile electronic commerce. This equipment will be ready to support new networking standards expected in mid-2007 that will mark the start of cost-effective, video-grade wireless services.

I believe that one of the trends that we can expect to see unfolding next year is a radical expansion of the push towards municipal WiFi services in the U.S. Initial forays are already fairly successful in major cities, and with the advent of video wireless we're likely to see a much broader push not only for media-produced video but video being churned out by users and local merchants communicating with one another via municipal wireless services. It's also likely to spur on a new interest in automated content download services, such that people on the go can have their favorite news and entertainment showing up on mobile devices with greater ease than ever before.

I have been warning for some time about the potential impact of WiFi on content deals cut by major media companies with phone companies using underpowered proprietary cell networks as a transport. It looks as if publishers will need to be particularly careful in 2007 in determining just how long of a lock-in on these kinds of deals will be in their best interest as Internet-friendly WiFi gains momentum. Presuming a "choke hold" on distribution via wireless is no longer an option in many markets. In the meantime expect plenty of legislative and legal rough-and-tumble as new power plays develop to get a piece of the municipal wireless Internet action.
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