Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Hotspot Zones" Born from Muni-Fi Failures and Hotspot Successes

Remember all those failed Muni-Fi (or Metro Wi-Fi) deployments in the mid-2000's? Well, most of them failed due to a combination of poor business planning where no anchor tenancy was established, advertising wasn't sufficient to foot the bill, over-zealous Wi-Fi design that called for far too few wireless APs (and subsequently poor performance), and difficulty in obtaining access rights to utility poles to get power and backhaul for AP locations which stalled deployments. (Read about all that over here; Minneapolis seems to be one bright spot in all that).

Now, Muni-Fi appears to be making a bit of a comeback. Although everyone has ditched that terminology, likely to avoid bringing the negative connotation that now comes with it :) This is not completely without just cause, as the focus has shifted from providing pervasive coverage over entire cities, to focused coverage in specific public areas where it makes sense. In some respects, I consider these new deployments a hybrid between Muni-Fi (pervasive public area coverage) and Hotspots (coverage in a specific location, typically tied to an establishment such as a coffee shop). I'd call them "Hotspot Zones".

AT&T and other carriers have installed hotspot zones in a few major urban areas, such as Manhattan and San Francisco. And Wi-Fi is even being installed in old phone booths in NYC to ease rights-of-way issues.

LightReading describes this initiative:

New York City's plan to house hot spots in pay phones to provide free Wi-Fi service in the Big Apple illustrates just how much wireless LAN has become part of everyday life even as the public telephone system has become a thing of the past. 
The city is working with pay-phone companies Titan and Van Wagner to install the hot spots, according to NY1 TV.

And the folks at Smart Wi-Fi provide insight on the economics of deployment in old phone booths:
Obviously phone booths are connected via the two wires needed for a POTS line which could easily be augmented with a DSL session.  Along with power, the locations can easily be re-born to a ‘smartphone’ world.  Maybe we can dub these “smartphone booths”. 
Putting Wi-Fi access points into un-used phone banks makes some sense, particularly with the new Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) and HotSpot2.0 initiatives.  Acompany can use their right-of-way to install and maintain the access points while changing back-end service providers (BoingoiPass, AT&T, …) to enable their subscriber’s access.
What's the difference this time around?

First, and most importantly, the deployment model has shifted from "large-scale" Wi-Fi installations trying to light up entire cities and communities, to much more focused "hotspot-zones" where Wi-Fi is deployed in areas that make sense from a public and consumer point-of-view.

Second, Wi-Fi is much more accessible and mobile than it was 7-10 years ago. Users increasingly no longer need to carry around laptops to access Wi-Fi hotspots, they have much more convenient access from smartphones and tablets. That should help increase adoption, improve the free Wi-Fi through advertising business model, and help these hotspot zones succeed.

Finally, Wi-Fi technology has dramatically improved with 802.11n, offering better speeds and rate-over-range for customer devices, translating into better service quality and perception.

It's all about the business model folks :) Okay - and some technology too.


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