Infrastructure

Nintendo handheld will drive WiFi

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 05/21/2004 - 08:21

Nintendo's new DS handheld will include WiFi. The successor to the wildly successful GameBoy will allow DS owners to play games with other nearby DS users and/or access the Internet via a WiFi hotspot.

That may sound ho-hum, but kids with WiFi devices will change the way we think about WiFi. Kids will want it at the candy store, at the gas station (download some new games while Dad is gassing up), at parks and recreation centers--in short, everywhere.

Communities should start thinking now about WiFi zones and WiFi blankets (collections of hotspots). And guess what? Whole families will want WiFi access, and many will happily pay for a family subscription.

Anything that expands the marketplace for services is a good thing. Along with that, we've also got to think about the implications of kids being connected to the Internet anywhere they go, and in many places where Mom and Dad can't supervise. It's a whole problem itself, and we need to think in parallel. We can't stop this new technology, but we do have an obligation, to our own families and children, and to the community at large, to make sure we use it sensibly, and that our kids are prepared to use these new information portals appropriately.

WiFi startup stops

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 05/20/2004 - 07:15

Cometa, a startup national WiFi hotspot firm, has shut down. Cometa was bankrolled by Intel, AT&T, and IBM, and planned to create 20,000 hotspots nationwide and wholesale them to other companies who would actually provide the end user service.

It was a good plan, but apparently poorly executed. No doubt the company was stuffed with execs from Intel, AT&T, and IBM, who apparently acted arrogantly and spent too much money too soon.

The problem with all of the firms planning national networks is twofold. First, WiFi will not take off, really take off, until there are widespread roaming agreements in place. Right now, if I'm at O'Hare in Chicago and want to check my mail via WiFi, I probably have to spend $10 for 15 minutes of access. Two hours later, in Omaha, some other company will want $10 for another 15 minutes. Even dumber, T-Mobile thinks I'll happily pay yet another $10 two days later as I pass back through o'Hare.

That's the state of WiFi right now. National roaming agreements, just the way cellphones can roam, where you pay a fixed monthly subscription, is the only thing that makes sense. Why are so many firms in the market despite the lack of roaming? Because WiFi is in a growth phase; for every customer who stops paying T-Mobile $10/day, two new ones pop up. It's exactly like the early days of dial-up modem access. But it won't last. Cometa is the first of many firms that will go out of business after wasting a lot of investor funds.

But I said there were two problems. The second is local, rather than national. Communities need ubiquitous WiFi to make it really useful, and just putting hotspots in hotels and McDonald's is not enough. Rural communities are especially unlikely to get much attention from the big national firms. The sensible approach is for communities to get involved in identifying appropriate antenna locations, mapping out a hotspot grid so that everyone in the community can get service, and in that fashion creating the incentives that will attract local and regional wireless providers to come into the market and sell services.

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