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When the Lights Go Out

10:45 AM -- I've been doing a number of seminars lately with municipal officials on the general subject of metro-scale WiFi deployments. The topics we discuss include all of the usual things -- technology, reliability of the unlicensed bands, capacity, applications, and business models. One subject that I didn't plan for comes up quite a bit: What happens (or, more correctly, doesn't) during a power failure?

Most metro-scale WLAN units are mounted on and powered by streetlights. During a major outage, though, even the streetlights go black. A number of outdoor WiFi products offer battery backup options, but these are designed to keep the net on the air for only a couple of hours. It's also worth noting that the other end of the connection, a notebook computer in most cases, is going to last only a couple of hours without a recharge, so in theory we should be all set. After all, outages in urban areas -- in the U.S., anyway -- are infrequent and generally don't last long. But as someone who keeps an old-fashioned phone around for emergencies -- the POTS network is designed to stay up through extensive power failures -- I have the feeling that we're going to be demanding much more in terms of backup power in future metro-scale WiFi deployments, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this demand appears more prominently in metropolitan RFPs, and even in local codes as well.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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