Muni Wi-Fi: Bringing Expectations Back to Earth

Olga Kharif

Every city, nowadays, seems to be planning a municipal Wi-Fi network. Problem is, consumers' expectations of these networks are often out of whack. Two most prevalent myths floating around are: 1. These Wi-Fi networks will be free for all to use. 2. These networks will allow for high-speed wireless Internet access all over the city.

Now, let me bust these two myths. First off, "don't expect Wi-Fi to be free everywhere," says Frank Hanzlik, managing director of industry consortium Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies Wi-Fi gadgets. In fact, most of these network probably won't be free, as lots of money will be required to maintain, operate and expand them.

Which brings me to another point that Hanzlik made during our recent talk: "You may be in a large city five to 10 years from now and not have coverage everywhere," he says. How so? When cities announce that they have deployed a Wi-Fi network, such a network typically only covers a few square blocks. It will take years to expand it and to work out all dead spots. Bottom line: We shouldn't expect miracles.

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