I would argue that only an operator like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), which launched its first WiFi mesh network yesterday in Riverside, Calif., really has the muscle to make muni work. WiFi mesh access makes more sense as part of a bundle of wired and wireless services than as a standalone offering, and only the large operators can make that happen. (See AT&T Goes Muni in Riverside.)
I'm not convinced that once the early round of deployments is out of the way the startups that dominate the market will be able to handle the long process of network upgrades and integration with other technologies, such as WiMax.
Of course, carriers have always been leery of both WiFi on phones and the whole municipal mesh concept. But that is starting to change with the launch of the WLAN-enabled iPhone and services like T-Mobile US Inc. 's [email protected] There could come a day when citywide mesh networks are just another access option for the average user.
Major carriers getting into mesh would likely make life both easier and more tricky for the vendors in the market. Bigger operators would probably mean larger contracts overall but also more testing and longer lead times. Although projects like the mesh network in San Francisco already seem to be bogged down in local politics anyway. (See What's Muni Wireless Good For?)
Without operators like AT&T involved, I don't see how mesh WiFi is anything more than a sideshow in the long-run. Look at how the broadband and cellular market is evolving, and it's clear that people like the option to buy bundled services rather than paying for each of them.
Mesh has to become just another option on your service plan if it is to have any kind of future.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung