September 25, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Citywide Wi-Fi isn't dead yet
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EarthLink's retrenchment has changed the course of the industry, at least for the moment. Cities, such as Chicago, have decided to put their Wi-Fi plans on hold while they re-examine their choices.
But others have decided to press forward. Despite some reports that it is abandoning its plans, organizers of the ambitious regional network for Silicon Valley say they are moving forward with plans to build a wireless network in 40 cities across four counties. The first two test cities are expected to be San Carlos and Palo Alto.
Still, EarthLink's problems and the spate of bad publicity are making it more difficult for the project to move forward. Silicon Valley's network was supposed to begin deployment this summer, but the project stalled as funding became scarce.
"Clearly investors are shaken by what is happening in the industry," said Seth Fearey, vice president and chief operating officer of Wireless Silicon Valley, the group spearheading the project. "And that is affecting us. But we are confident that will be able to convince people that our approach is different."
Fearey said that unlike San Francisco and some of the other projects that have been proposed, the Silicon Valley project has a different business model. The project is not looking to provide an alternative consumer broadband service in communities that are already well served by existing broadband service providers. It's also not necessarily looking to serve the municipal or public safety market by building a wireless network that is only used by the cities themselves.
Instead, Wireless Silicon Valley along with its partners hopes to create a wireless broadband network that can be used as an economic development tool. The idea is that businesses in industries, such as construction or health care, can use the network to allow their remote and mobile workers to communicate using a robust wireless network.
And unlike other projects that have focused on Wi-Fi, Wireless Silicon Valley hopes to use other licensed and unlicensed wireless technologies, such as WiMax, to offer service throughout the region.
"A network of this size and magnitude will need more than just city contracts to sustain it," said Fearey. "Cities are a good starting point, but they can't carry the entire load, which is why we are going to industries and businesses within the region to develop applications."
While it appears that Wireless Silicon Valley has embraced a new business model, Settles said that he believes it could still be a tough sell, especially in the current climate.
"At the end of the day, a lot of the success of these projects comes down to marketing," he said. "You really have to go out there with a clear message and articulate how the network will impact people for it to be successful. And then you have to explain how you can pay for it. And that's not easy to do."
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