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The Philadelphia Experiment

The winner of the contract to provide Philadephians with free wireless Internet access is a consortium led by EarthLink Inc..

EarthLink will work with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and startup Tropos Networks to unwire 135 square miles of the city, using WiFi mesh networking hardware.

EarthLink was one of two finalists in bidding to unwire Philadelphia, the other was Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).

EarthLink's winning charm? Simple: The company is going to pay for the network.

"Their bid is unique in that they have agreed to finance the network, eliminating the financial burden on the city," says Brad Day, Tropos's director of marketing and communications, via email.

But, in fact -- as previously reported -- the real winner here is Tropos Networks, which has been poised to supply WiFi mesh networking gear to whichever party won. (See Tropos Pairs With HP, Bags $15M.)

Tropos is one of the startups that has made the early running in the mesh market by using low-cost 802.11 radios as the basis of routing nodes that pass data among themselves and require far fewer wired connections to operate than typical WiFi networks. This technology has been pushed as "metro mesh," a cheap way for municipalities and operators to offer large public access networks that can often also be used to provide wireless access for emergency workers.

The startup already has many smaller deployments in place -- in fact it claims to have more than 250 customers. But Philadelphia is clearly the first big test of the viability of municipal mesh technology.

We'll update this story as more details emerge.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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freetoair 12/5/2012 | 2:58:57 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment sure this info is out there somewhere so apologies in advance if these questions are redundant:

- hope many APs proposed to cover the 135sq miles?
- what, if any, service level agreements are part of this deal? for coverage, capacity, throughput, etc.
- what are the peak & aggregate DL datarates proposed?

interested if anyone has any visibility.
Net Worthy 12/5/2012 | 2:58:42 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment The requirements are cost, cost, cost. The amount of aggregation and statistical multiplexing pretty much guarantees that the service will be low throughput with lousy QoS. You get what you pay for.

Philly is in the vanguard of really big municipal networks. I think they will prove that lowest-cost networks are bad value compared to more intelligently engineered networks that have a higher up-front cost but support more services and applications.

WFG
meshsecurity 12/5/2012 | 2:58:35 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment Sounds like someone is whining over not being invited to the table on the Philadephia deal. I seem to remember Cisco/Airespace vying for this deal also.

By the way, how is Cisco doing in the wireless Mesh world these days? Word on the street is that they are losing RFP after RFP.

Cost my a***, you need to have a solution that works and customers that trust you to when these deals.
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 2:58:34 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment I dont know, all of these points about QoS and service levels etc are valid indeed; but you have to wonder, if the service is "good enough" (after all you are talking about at least a few hundred Kbps, which is good enough for most apps and most people) it might prove to be very disruptive indeed. From the business model it appears as if there will be some amount of ad-driven revenue in there (check out the Google - SF WiFi pitch as well), so if they keep the access dirt-cheap or free, it will cause a lot of problems for the cellular folks (may not affect the landline operators as much, I would suspect).
techgnochhi 12/5/2012 | 2:58:33 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment such a bubblicious topic! I wonder, really wonder if two years from now we'll be scratching our heads about how anyone thought anyone could make money by deploying wide area networks based on wi-fi for free. sound like online grocery delivery to me.

the cellular carriers are spending billions to achieve the same thing. don't you think they'd be doing it for a fraction of that if they thought they could?

like the cheap aeron chairs post internet bubble, I am looking forward the glut of cheap wifi APs that will be available two years from now

and ps: I love WiFi!
lrmobile_rusty 12/5/2012 | 2:58:27 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment You may be right, but for most users Wi-Fi only requires nomadic (laptop) use. True mobility with a cell phone handset is a whole different ballgame.
sqwireless 12/5/2012 | 2:58:15 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment agree with techgnochhi. how much you going to pay for free air and free access? need to offer value add services. or have a billing connection to the customer you can't break easily. anyone want to start a company that just aggregates everyone's bills for everything? phone, electricity, software, etc.? ends this whole wifi or wimax vs 3g/4g carrier debate, no?
sqwireless 12/5/2012 | 2:58:14 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment maybe you PAY your phone bills with online banking. you GET your phone bill from your bank? what kind of bank is that?
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 2:58:14 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment >>>anyone want to start a company that just aggregates everyone's bills for everything? phone, electricity, software, etc.?
Yep, it already exists. It is called a Bank with electronic bill payment ;-)
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 2:58:13 AM
re: The Philadelphia Experiment I was being facetious in my previous post (obviously the humor was misplaced :-) ), but there is definitely an element of truth in banks consolidating my bills. I prefer not to get paper bills, lot of the bills including my phone service (SBC, if you want to know) go directly to my bank and I pay them all online. I was wondering out aloud in reaction to your comment about bill consolidation being an attraction for service providers offering multiple services; whether it is really such a big deal at all for consumers given that a lot of banks are doing it in a different manner anyway.
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