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Microsoft Pushing Municipal Wi-Fi 67

PreacherTom writes "Microsoft is moving to be the latest player to bring its formidable weight to bear in the growing Wi-Fi market. The software giant's recent deal to provide content and services through partnership with municipal Wi-Fi operator MetroFi in Portland, Ore., will intensify the battle between Google, Yahoo!, and MSN for online traffic. Why the focus? Content providers who capture the growing municipal Wi-Fi market will be in a better position to enjoy higher traffic to their sites and greater customer loyalty — and, as a result, grab a greater share of the $16 billion of expected online advertising dollars this year, according to consultancy eMarketer. 'It's a battle for eyeballs,' says Matt Rosoff, an analyst with the consultancy firm 'Directions on Microsoft'."
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Microsoft Pushing Municipal Wi-Fi

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  • Good for them.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SetarconeX ( 160251 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:17PM (#16885238)
    Much as I'm loathe to say anything good about Microsoft, I'd probably install Vista on my right eye if Microsoft could get me some decent municipal wifi in the cities I frequent. Anything which brings about more free wifi is a good thing in my book.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:22PM (#16885332)
      Would you then give your left eye to Satan for free airfare? You keep this shit up and you're gonna end up blind, sir.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I suspect they care nothing at all about the WiFi business itself; but rather need whatever ways to lock-in Windows OS use (with the possible exception for other Microsoft IP-royalty paying OS's like Apple and SuSE).

      I can promise you for "security" reasons, Microsoft WiFi will require Microsoft DRM which will require a Microsoft IP patent license which will no tbe compatable with F/OSS no matter what Novell would like you to think.

      This has nothing to do with providing a nice service / and everything to do w
    • by mungtor ( 306258 )
      You're not saying anything good about MIcrosoft, you're just saying that you're a typical short-sighted, greedy, mostly amoral consumer.

      As long as it's free it's good? Do you only buy clothes you know were made in sweatshops? They _are_ cheaper.
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )
        not really.

        Many high dollar cloths are made in sweat shops.

        So, why is free bad just because it's from MS?
        • by mungtor ( 306258 )
          Because it isn't "free". It may not cost any money, but you know there will be advertisements or other policies in place which stuff Microsoft in your face all the time. It would be entirely possible that the only way you could connect is with an MS application which brings you pop-up ads or just remind you how "great" Microsoft is. Or just a small slow-down in accessing Google vs MSN searches...

          None of this would be completely bad if it wasn't a company which continually uses extensive campaigns of F
    • What does WiFi have to do with Vista? It's not as if a Microsoft OS would be required to use WiFi in these locations. Your favorite Linux distro would do just fine. I'm not quite sure how Microsoft partnering to create Municipal WiFi is going to drive traffic to their search site though. Are people supposed to be so happy that they helped create it, that they decide to use MSN Search? Personally, I'd say "Thanks for the access!" And then promptly point my browser to google.
    • This is a Bad Thing, as vendor lock-in always is. Because Microsoft is involved, I'm now fighting the plan and want to see the whole thing ripped out since it won't be run responsibly. Personal Telco [] got it right, they should be the ones to make wifi go wall to wall in Portland.
  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:21PM (#16885316) Homepage Journal
    The range on a single AP is not that great, even with a high power, high sensitivity AP, it would seem like you would want one on every other street light, and that's not cheap. In my experience, a mesh isn't very good at making a stable connection, and wiring every fourth AP doesn't sound very cheap either.
    • How cost-effective is public school? How many of those kids are going to really make any money for the state or country? Wouldn't we be better served to send all of our children to private schools with smaller classes and overall better education? Yet we still pay taxes into public schooling for those that can't afford or choose against private school. Adding a state tax for municipal WiFi networks isn't so far fetched when you compare it to public school. You may choose to send your kid to a private school
      • I think that's a specious argument. There are other technologies that can be used to do the same thing, I just don't think WiFi is the one to use. WiMax looks like a much better idea, and has a range measured in miles, not yards, so you can put up fewer towers. The cellular networks are similarly powerful, I think it would be better to invest in that than WiFi. Heck, I think giving out DSL accounts would be cheaper than a WiFi mesh.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Stevecrox ( 962208 )
      It depends on the set up and can prove worthwhile, my university is in the main city center with student accomadation surrounding it. WiFi was rolled out on campus and has complete coverage there.

      But more to the point the university bagan to move over to a net based material system, since all lecture material is online, easy net access is a must, there were RJ45 sockets in the technology and engineering buildings, but there are around 12, 10 storey buidlings on campus, whats easier and cheaper

    • Ever heard of a company called Ricochet []? They've been mentioned on Slashdot a few times. They did exactly what you suggested using pre-802.11 technology: they had repeaters on every polltop and every fourth or fifth was wired to a T1.

      It was a great idea, but as you suggested, just not cost effective. They went under a few times and were subsequently bought out once or twice. I think they're still in business in San Diego. I have my doubts that an 802.11-based company could possibly do any better, considerin
    • I'm very curious how the Portland wireless plan will play out. I live here, and in the last month or so I've been seeing these white cones [] popping up all over the streetlights and traffic lights. They will have to have some decent power to them, because they're barely every two to four blocks. I know with one wall (or more likely a building) between a computer and the AP it will not be the best signal. They'll be getting power from the traffic or street lights.

      From that page linked above there's a and wh []

    • That's a good point. There's a lot of debate about this right now. Some people want more power and permission to from the FCC to use different parts of the spectrum to increase the range. Others are concerned about interference. The problem with wireless communications is that in physics there's a measurement called "skin depth" which is the distance a wave travels before it's power level drops by 1/e or about 1/3. The formula is something like (wavelength/2*pi).

      As for the cost:

      Probably the most practic
  • It won't work. In a Microsoft wireless network, there will be only Bills [], no Linuses.
  • by businessnerd ( 1009815 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:38PM (#16885592)
    It seems Microsoft has been doing a lot of following and not much leading. Google really lead the way with the whole free public WiFi and now Microsoft is jumping in the ring. Apple revolutionizes the digital music scene, so Microsoft answers (years later mind you) with the Zune. Google launches a hosted word processor and spreadsheet app. and Microsoft just announced that they too will be releasing such apps with Office Live. Now I understand that Microsoft needs to either get on board or get left behind, but we hardly ever see Microsoft actually lead the way. To me it seems odd that the largest software company in the world relies on other companies ideas. You would think with their size and their cash, they would have more fresh, industry leading ideas coming out of their R&D department. I'm not too shocked though, because this has been the model Microsoft has taken since the beginning of their existence. MS-DOS was a ripoff of CP/M or (insert DOS-like OS here) and the idea of the mouse driven GUI was ripped off from Apple.

    Does anyone have an example of a truly original idea that came out of Microsoft AND was successful industry leader?
    • by tttonyyy ( 726776 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:52PM (#16885858) Homepage Journal
      You're forgetting - the reason Microsoft are so successful is because they're driven by profitability, not by being a technology leader. It just so happens that they're very good at taking other people's ideas and implementing them in a way that works and that people (in general) will want; they're also good at market research, it would seem.

      Inventing new stuff is one thing - producing it in a mass-market easy-to-digest way is another. The latter is where the money is.
      • Um you inserted >>It just so happens that they're very good at taking other people's ideas and implementing them in a way that works and that people (in general) will want

        When in reality it's MSFT just shoves their version down your throat through illegal, and quasi-legal actions.

        Just remember MSFT does average in every venture they try where they can't use their monopoly position. Remember WebTV/MSFT TV ? MSFT's list of failures is greater than that of Apples. And Apples had a pretty impressive li
      • by paniq ( 833972 )
        and there you see, as a corporation going all for the money makes you filthy rich, but you remain unoriginal, unwanted and loathed to an extent that makes people even turn away from money, because you're giving money a bad name with your attitude. imagine that the richest technology corporation on earth might also be a kind, generous and benevolent one. is this mutually exclusive? i for one welcome... no wait, actually i don't care who does wi-fi in the cities as long as it's free, uncensored and availabl
      • by Akvum ( 580456 )
        I wonder if they are really just trying to get in on some of that no-bid government contract cheese.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bberens ( 965711 )
      I've posted this before and I'll post it again. Apple and Microsoft are not technology innovators, they are technology integrators. They purchase technologies (or get them free in the case of BSD), integrate them, shiny them up, and then sell them for massive profits. For me, the linux kernel is useless. However, this company Redhat integrated a bunch of software into a single distribution, prettied it up with some artwork, and I really like it. Redhat is not primarily a technology innovator either. M
    • Why do you act like this is a surprise? This has been Microsoft's model since day one! Look at any Microsoft product. With almost all of them, somebody came out with a product, and they either bought it, or introduced their own version that directly competes with the original.
    • To be fair to MS, they have had a research group publishing in this area since around 2001 []
  • Hmmm. Zune? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by macs4all ( 973270 )
    Could this be part of the evil Zune conspiracy?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )
      Exactly. Imagine how much people will want those Zunes once they figure out all the terrific ways the Zune uses WiFi.
      • Imagine exactly how many weeks it will take for Apple to push out an iPod that takes advantage of exactly the same WiFi.
        • You might be surprised to learn that the current iPod models can use WiFi in as many useful ways as the Zune is able to.
    • Given that Zune only uses WiFi in peer-to-peer mode for sharing songs, I don't think it'll benefit much from having an infrastructure WiFi network. However, having a stake in WiFi adoption may persuade Microsoft to decripple the WiFi in the Zune.

      Its a hope at any rate.

  • This is the first story I saw after I finally got my wifi back post yesterday's Windows Update.

    Microsoft FTW!
  • by SkipNewarkDE ( 584096 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @12:52PM (#16885862)
    The whole municipal wifi thing sounds great on paper, but the reality of the service it delivers is sorely lacking. I stayed in a hotel in Mountain View which was covered by Google's municipal wifi. The connection was flakey, slow and unreliable. Indeed, in retrospect, I find it almost comical that local cable companies and ISPs are screaming against this sort of thing as being anticompetitive. The fact of the matter is that it sort of works, but not very well. Get a few users on it, and a few meters of walls, trees, whatever, through in some RFI, and it makes for a really crappy internet access experience.
    • by D4rk Fx ( 862399 )
      My College has something very similar to this set up on campus. Yes, there are places where you won't be able to get a good connection, but overall it works very well, and you can walk between a lot of the buildings and you never lose signal. The problem here though, is that when I was using the Vista Beta, It seemed to keep locking down to an AP based on the MAC address, and it made it impossible to go between APs without dropping off the network and re-connecting to the new AP. They all had the same SSID.
    • This whole "horseless carriage" thing sounds like a great idea, but the hand crank requires a lot of muscle power to get the engine started, when it even starts, and, what with all the ruts and bumps in our dirt roads, I still prefer my horse. No sir, this so-called "automobile" is going nowhere!
  • until I saw this: "'It's a battle for eyeballs,'"

    That's just wrong.
  • But what about Wii - Fi? I am sure MS doesn't want to help them out.

    Wii Fi Foe Fum? I smell the blood of a Poe Ke Mon
  • SSH (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alohatiger ( 313873 )
    If they allow SSH I can simply tunnel through a proxy and skip all the ads.

    If they don't allow SSH, it's a crippled connection (port 80 only?) that will also break other network services people expect (VPN, etc.).

    Municipal WiFi should be provided as a service (free or otherwise) and should not be limited.
  • I understand Microsoft is partnering with DSL providers (QWEST?) to push discounted DSL; the catch is that you have to install special MSN website-friendly software.

    No doubt the WiFi stuff will have a similar catch...
  • by Kipper the Llama ( 454021 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @01:52PM (#16886958)
    There are a number of comments here talking about the current problems with municipal WiFi. Ok, this is obvious. But as wireless router power boosts, a greater variety of bandwidth opens for such use and so on, it seems reasonable to assume that municipal WiFi will become the primary way of accessing the internet for most internet users. With the amount of portable technologies exploiting wifi spreading (Nintendo's DS, Zune, etc.) city-dwellers will begin to expect such a service from someone in the way we now expect electricity or water. What Microsoft, Google, et al. are doing is jumping into the ring early in order to exploit it as a business advantage, which we can only hope works, because this may prevent wifi from becoming a utility in the classical sense.
  • by frdmfghtr ( 603968 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @02:01PM (#16887156)
    Some thoughts for discussion...


    At the same time, the number of consumer devices with Wi-Fi capability is multiplying (see, 11/7/06, "Sony's Mylo: Mighty Weak"). As consumers move to muni Wi-Fi access, there's an opportunity for disrupting the online status quo: Users might be persuaded to switch not only their broadband providers but also their current home pages and Web search preferences.

    Or perhaps, in order to use the wireless network, install "client" software that forces the changes in the search preferences or home page.

    This may be true for John Q. Public who installs that "essential" Roadrunner CD that gives them a branded IE and Roadrunner homepage. For many of these users, they just don't know any better. They are the ones who always use a search engine to go to the same web site over and over again as opposed to typing in the URL or setting a bookmark. I consider a wireless connection just that; a CONNECTION. It's a connection to go where *I* want to go, and to use the search engine *I* want to use. If I have to use a particular client to use a wireless connection, I'll find another connection.

    So for users like myself, this argument doesn't work.

    By yearend, MetroFi's wireless broadband network will only cover two square miles around Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, with its bronze sculpture of a man with an umbrella and an ever-present Starbucks. Next year, though, MetroFi will offer a free, ad-supported service, as well as an ad-free, $19.95-a-month service, throughout much of Portland's 134 square miles.

    Didn't cable TV start like this? You pay a subscription fee every month, and you get these wonderful cable channels that don't have advertising; they are supported by your subscription fees. I'm canceling cable because I don't like paying for channels to advertise to me; heck, late-night cable channels are nothing BUT "infomercials" and there's no way I'm paying for THAT.

    The next question that would arise is: how long before the Wi-Fi access becomes ad-subsidized, in order to keep the "low low price of $19.95 per month"? A paid subscripting reduces the number of ads, but doesn't eliminate them. I mean, who has the deeper pockets, the public who would use this set-up or Madison Avenue?

    I would like to see a study like this: what brings more revenue, a ad-supported model or subscription-based model.

    Free, ad-based Wi-Fi networks are another option, also unproven. Research firm JupiterKagan has found that only 27% of free Wi-Fi users would be willing to see ads. "Advertising alone does not pay the bills," says Cole Reinwand, vice-president of product strategy and marketing at EarthLink, which will provide, together with Google, fee-based and ad-free services.

    That's not how MetroFi sees it. It's sign-up rates for the free service are "an order of magnitude higher" than for fee-based Wi-Fi, reports Chuck Haas, MetroFi's CEO. "Obviously, free sells."

    It depends on how you ask the question.

    Q1: "Would you be willing to sign up for FREE wireless service in your area?"

    Q2: "Would you be willing to view ads in exchange for free wireless service in your area?"

    Regarding what Mr. Haas says about the fee-based vs. ad-based sign-up rates: if a user is signing up for a free service, but not the paid service, how long do you think that user will put up with the ads shown? How long will that user be an active user? How often will that user actually use the service? If something is free, it's easier to walk away from it, as you have lost nothing. If you pay for the service, it's because it's important enough to have it and you're less likely to walk away from it. Sure, "free" might get you "orders of magnitude" more subscribers, but 2-to-20 is just as much an "order of magnitude" jump as 10,000-to-100,000. Real, actual numbers would be more telling.

  • If any of these companies really wanted to make a difference for the consumer, they'd be helping the communities roll out broadband fiber to the curb and bypass the greedy monopolist telcos/cablecos. Now that would bring some real improvement to a lot of bypassed neighborhoods and communities. And they wouldn't really have to do it all themselves nearly as much as just help the communities get that going for themselves. Heck, even just providing legal support from their vast pool of lawyers would be a bo
  • The real way to get net neutrality is with municipal broadband. Projects like UTOPIA [] give consumers multiple ISP choices, so if somebody charges or blocks something they don't like, they switch. The fiber is there. MS and google both like net neutrality, and this is probably a cheaper way to get it than lobbying for b0rk legislation.
  • I don't think there's a lot of customer loyalty to be gained by anyone in the WiFi business. People use WiFi like they use a water fountain or the lights in a business, although for longer periods of time. They will come to a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee, and hang out for quite a while using the AP. But it doesn't make them loyal to that coffee shop any more than using the restroom in there does - and a restroom is a fairly decent analogy because most people use a WiFi connection when they feel the urge
  • IF we were permited to do so, we could build a cloud of wireless access points, controlled by people, for people, at no cost other than maintaining our own node. Laser and radio dishes could provide long distance backbones, again, paid for by users and maintained for one and all.

    Such was the dream. But, by "municipalizing" the cloud, we introduce political and corporate control of public airwaves, with the usual start-out-low-and-then-gouge monetization scheme that will always boil the frog until he's payin
    • Your dream is a reality in many places, at least in Europe. Right now I am posting via the Funkfeuer network (

      There are similar projects going on in many European cities. Here it is simpler than in the US, because of the shorter distances involved.
      • Well done. In densely populated US cities, the mesh could work. The problem is, the way these municipal/corporate partnerships work, cities won't permit people to operate a free mesh network of a magnitude necessary to do the job once they twig that they had a free-as-in-beer competitor. I'd think the courts would rule that the cities could regulate the radio space to their advantage, or failing that, the FCC would automatically rule in the corporation's favor.

  • Why must WiMAX become the Betamax of wireless networking?
  • by Chacham ( 981 )
    'It's a battle for eyeballs,'

    Isn't that what the cromags do?

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"