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AT&T Goes Muni in Riverside

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) unveiled its first citywide WiFi mesh network with a deployment in Riverside, Calif., on Monday. The operator is also said to be in the running for a far larger municipal network deployment in the U.S.

AT&T is working with startup MetroFi Inc. to cover three square miles of downtown Riverside with its wireless LAN-based mesh technology. Once fully built out, the metro WiFi in Riverside will be the largest deployment in the U.S. for both municipal and public use, AT&T claims.

The operator is also reckoned by some to be the leading contender for the contract to build out a large municipal mesh network in Chicago. Unstrung reported in June that AT&T is one of the two front-runners for the contract to unwire Chicago, alongside a team led by EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) (See Chi-Town Mesh-Up Coming Soon?)

The Chicago municipal network, which has long been on the drawing board, would be far larger than most rollouts at around 200 square miles. There is no official word yet, however, on when the contract will be announced.

Like Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and other major wireline operators, AT&T was initially antagonistic to the concept of municipal WiFi deployment. The company, however, changed its position over the course of 2006.

The company initially bid on a muni contract for Grand Rapids, Mich., which was eventually awarded to Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) in December. Even as late as March 2006, however, company spokespeople from AT&T were dismissing the concept of municipal networks and claiming that broadband deployments were better handled by the private sector. (See Grand Rapids Chooses WiMax and Sacramento to Set Up Muni WiFi.)

In 2007, however, the carrier is fully behind muni mesh. As well as Riverside, AT&T also has deals to roll out networks in St. Louis and the City of Napa in California.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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