One of many wireless story lines amidst a week of CTIA-related press releases relates to municipal (muni) Wi-Fi launch, with a formal "wire-cutting" hosted by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino setting the pace.

Muni Wi-Fi reportedly has been on shaky ground. We have done our share of reporting, this article from last September being one example of that sector’s strengths and weaknesses. Earthlink’s sudden exit from heavy muni Wi-Fi investments in February is a more recent indicator.

Enter Mayor Menino, who has made good on an announcement in 2006 that Boston would build a wireless network using a non-profit entity that would in turn wholesale access to others. Using broadband wireless mesh technology from BelAir Networks, which was trumpeting this week’s ceremony, the non-profit group openairboston partnered with Galaxy Internet Services to begin offering services for as little as $9.95 per month last August.

The "slow launch" has put wireless access before 8,000 households in the trial area, according to a BelAir spokesperson. This week’s ceremony formally launched wireless broadband networks in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods.

In a statement, Mayor Menino noted BelAir’s work with "a variety of public safety, public works and public access applications in leading cities around the world." No mention of cable MSOs, but never mind, we’ll fill in that blank.

The one operator that has publicly commented on its work with BelAir is Bresnan Communications. The story cited above contains background, and the work – actually a trial in a one-square-mile area of Billings, MT – remains ongoing.

"It’s working fine now," said Lenny Higgins, SVP Advanced Services for Bresnan. "When we set it up the first time, we had some gaps in coverage, and there were some new revisions in software, the backend cable modem product."

Bresnan’s results appear to be tentative. "We’re not getting as much usage from it as we thought we would," Higgins said.  But he attributed that in part to geography.

"It’s cold in Billings," he said. RFP coming up It’s warmer in Augusta, GA, where city reps announced this week that it is prepared to spend more than half a million dollars obtained from a state grant to build and deploy a Wi-Fi network.

As in Boston, this second largest city in Georgia is aiming to hand these deployed assets to an Internet service provider willing to "operate, market and maintain the network." The city is likewise aiming for the biggest wireless bang for its buck.

"We selected areas within the city with the highest household concentration within the city and added the downtown business corridor and three major colleges, then combined them all into our deployment area," said Gary Hewitt, assistant director of IT for Augusta.

Apart from technical trials, the cable industry’s response has been mixed.  See this report on a recent SCTE Live Learning event for further discussion.

One MSO may be thinking more pointedly about Wi-Fi in the metropolitan space this week. As it happens, Metro Boston is also the site of a prize-winning system in the Comcast footprint; and Augusta is home not only to the Masters Tournament, but also to another Comcast triple play system.

– Jonathan Tombes

The Daily


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