Government doesn't drive Wi-Fi

A report from the University of Georgia's New Media Institute shows that although local government is a major driver of large wireless projects nationwide, its influence is not as pervasive or its reasons as clear as some would think.

The institute's research, conducted in the spring, counted 38 Wi-Fi "clouds" and 16 Wi-Fi "zones" in the United States, with more than 81 percent of those providing public access. However, whereas 40 percent of the clouds are paid for by cities, municipal governments pay for only a fifth of the zones.

A Wi-Fi cloud is defined as one that offers continuous coverage over a significant portion of a city's geographic area, usually using multiple hotspots. A Wi-Fi zone is an aggregation of cooperating hotspots sharing a single management system. Both aim for pervasive service as opposed to the more numerous hotspots, which typically cover only an area the size of a football field.

Officials at municipal governments seem interested in providing wireless coverage for only a portion of the cities they manage, the study found.

Also, although public safety is receiving significant attention as an important application of wireless, only 21 percent of the Wi-Fi clouds and none of the zones have officials who cite that as a reason for their initiatives, the report states.

Most public safety wireless projects actually use private networks where controlled access makes it easier to meet the necessary security standards, according to the report, something that is difficult to achieve with clouds and zones because they're designed to be easy for people to access.

Clouds and zones were largely designed to generating revenue. The study found that zones mainly targeted tourism, whereas clouds looked to subscription sales and to providing broadband alternatives for communities.

What is apparent for both the cloud and zone varieties of wireless, however, is they are considered more common carriers than broadcasters and are not concerned with delivering local content. The dominant model for community wireless today is the telephone rather than television, the study states.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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