Municipal WiFi Flying in Tempe
BroadBananas Michael Harris 3/10/2006
Driving through Tempe, Ariz. last night, a change in the scenery caught my eye: wireless mesh access points installed on street lights on the city's main thoroughfares. When announced last fall, Tempe's municipal WiFi initiative garnered headlines around the globe. Today, the network is actually up and running citywide with more than 550 access points. The network was built by MobilePro Corp. using WiFi mesh gear from StrixSystems. MobilePro offers WiFi Internet access service under the name WAZTempe (http://www.waztempe.com/) with broadband Internet service available for $3.95 per hour, $7.95 per day, $19.95 per week or $29.95 per month. There's a catch, of course. While the network is designed to cover 95% of the city, users who want WiFi access can only connect to the network if they are within 150 yards of an access point (AP). Checking availability through the WAZTempe Web site for an address at one of the city's main intersections returned an 'out of range' result, as the nearest AP is 247 yards away. In other words, 95% coverage only applies to those users who are outdoors. Or, perhaps, those residential or business users that install a connecting WiFi bridge and high-gain antenna. On that count, MobilePro admits many users 'may need additional equipment to enhance indoor coverage' and that such CPE solutions will be available this summer. The speed and stated cost at which this network has been deployed is startling, though. For a projected $1-million buildout, the WAZTempe network may well cover 65,000 households and 1,100 businesses (with enhanced CPE), not to mention the 50,000 students at Arizona State University in Tempe, in a matter of months. If MobilePro actually came in on budget, that equates to a paltry $15 per home passed, assuming subscribers purchase the CPE. Those economics ought to have wired broadband providers scratching their heads, and maybe even shaking in their boots. To the point, CableLabs is reportedly working on a 'CableRoam' program to help MSOs add WiFi and WiMax coverage to their own networks. Satisfied with what they have seen in Tempe, the governments of neighboring Chandler and Gilbert, Ariz. have also tapped MobilePro to deploy muni WiFI networks in their communities, quickly expanding the company's broadband wireless footprint in metro Phoenix. The moves turn up the heat on incumbents Cox and Qwest, which are already locked in a fierce battle for broadband subscribers.