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Muni Wi-Fi KO'd by wrong kind of hills, trees, rain

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Google's launch of a Wi-Fi network in its home town of Mountain View may be delayed, according to reports. The company is scrambling to build more transmitters than it originally planned, notes eWeek's Ben Charny.

It's typical of the delays in getting municipal Wi-Fi projects up and running. Bouyed more by evangelism - and lobbying dollars - rather than reality, Wi-Fi projects are experiencing the kind of issues all too familiar to experienced network engineers.

Kimo Crossman, whose activism helped push the details of San Francisco's Municipal Wi-Fi project TechConnect into the sunlight, says that municipal Wi-Fi projects in Tempe, Arizona and St Cloud in Florida also ran into the same problem.

"The need for pilots of municipal Wi-Fi seem beyond prudent," Crossman tells us.

San Francisco has additional challenges over Mountain View, he notes.

"Hills, older construction with lead and mesh which significantly reduce penetration of outside signals, and a much higher coverage requirement of 95 per cent outdoors and 90 per cent indoors are significant issues," he says.

Crossman notes that the same technology, Tropos, being used in Mountain View is also planned for San Francisco.

It's the indoor coverage that appears to be the stumbling block.

In the small town of Chaska, Minnesota, the project was forced into an upgrade almost as soon as it went live, notes Cnet.

These are familiar problems to network engineers responsible for the build out of CDMA and GSM networks throughout the 1990s. But Wi-Fi's high frequency band, which works poorly indoors, its lack of allocated spectrum and low range, mean the technology has far more problems than established cellular radio interfaces. As a consequence, leaves, fog, and rain can severely hamper network performance.

Just as hills defeated the takeover of earth by the Mark One Dalek (after an early, successful conquest of East Anglia), hills are proving a problem for the Wi-Fi evangelistas.

Because of that, dreams of replacing the cellular carriers as a reliable phone service with unregulated spectrum are likely to remain just that - dreams. At least until battle hardened 4G network technologies such as Qualcomm's OFDM and WiMAX come along. And when they do, the largest buyers of 4G are likely to be...you've already guessed. ®

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