Wi-Fi in open public spaces has been tried in many different locations, under many different schemes, but it has been a tough sell, mostly because of economies of scale and who foots the bill. A larger Wi-Fi coverage area does not readily translate into a scalable relationship to revenue. In fact, Wi-Fi has come up short with any real revenue producing models so far.
What has been tried along the lines of free public Wi-Fi deployments in outdoor environments have largely been scrapped for the reasons listed above. However, lately, with the advances in Wi-Fi and some emerging Wi-Fi models that are offering push technology, downloadable apps and pay services, that is about to change.
There have been some successes, like the city of Lexington, Kentucky, which has had a citywide Wi-Fi system in place since December of 2012. One year later, the city has averaged about 200 user per day with peak loads of up to 1,600 during events.
According to Terra Greene, Lexington Assistant City Manager and Director of the IT department, “The City of Lexington is thrilled with this year’s performance of the citywide Wi-Fi.” The city’s outdoor public Wi-Fi offers speeds between one and six Mbps second, which should be enough bandwidth to stream video or music, city officials have said. Most residential Wi-Fi, now a days is at least 5 Mbps and up to 60 Mbps. Five Mbps is touch and go for any high quality multimedia.
However, 200 users per day isn’t a heavy load for a public Wi-Fi network and such bandwidth may support acceptable streaming of media at this level of users. Also, the Lexington deployment is small compared to larger cities that are toying with deploying a public Wi-Fi network.
In that vein, California has always been on the cutting edge of technology so it comes a no surprise that northern California’s San Francisco is giving it a shot. The city has partnered with Ruckus Wireless to set up a network along the city’s world-famous Market Street corridor to deliver free, high-speed outdoor public Wi-Fi service. The service will be set up to cover the area from the intersection of Market and Castro Streets down to the pedestrian corridor at the Embarcadero, one of the most heavily foot-trafficked thoroughfares in the world.
San Francisco’s Mayor, Edwin M. Lee said that “because San Francisco is at the world’s epicenter of technology innovation and use, residents, visitors and even businesses now have a fundamental expectation for pervasive wireless connectivity.” “We have gone to great lengths to build the foundation to deliver on these expectations with the best Wi-Fi technology we could find right in our own backyard.”
This brings up an interesting point. Lee said that “With the explosive growth of the mobile Internet and mobile Internet applications, high-speed Wi-Fi access is now viewed as a non-negotiable utility.” That seems to indicate that, revenue producing or not, public Wi-Fi is going to move to the fast lane. It will likely become a factor in individual’s travel considerations in the near future, placing even more revenue options on the line.
The hardware will consist of Ruckus’ cutting-edge, ZoneFlex 7782-S outdoor access points (APs). These are, supposedly, next generation APs based on patented wireless technology that extends signals and adapts to changing environmental conditions, They can provide dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) Wi-Fi service to the area. The backbone network is done via gigabit fiber connections. In locations where fiber backhaul to the Ruckus access points is prohibitive, Ruckus SmartCell, smart mesh networking technology is being used to provide highly resilient wireless connections between access points. This resiliency is attributed to Gateway (SCG) 200 wireless LAN (WLAN) controllers, which aggregate traffic and provide centralized management of the Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Marc Touitou, Chief Information Officer and director of the Department of Technology for the City and County of San Francisco said “our goal was to identify and install some of the world’s best Wi-Fi technology that could deliver an exceptional experience to some of the world’s most discerning users. “We’ve found that technology right in our own backyard, and have worked hard with Ruckus Wireless to build the foundation of what we believe is one of the country’s premiere public Wi-Fi services.” He further went on to say, which relays back to the revenue issue, “with a reliable and ubiquitous infrastructure in place, the door is wide open for a myriad of invaluable services well beyond public access.”
So even if public Wi-Fi isn’t a money maker in the technological sense, it will surely be considered as one for the travel industry. And if it isn’t in your travel plans today, it will be shortly.