AT&T has made a move into the Muni WiFi space, meaning things are really getting very interesting.
For the longest time the MuniWiFi space was being dominated by little known startups who built things from scratch, serving as quasi integrators even though the big telcos and cable guys already had enough fiber in the ground to make the build outs really easy. They already have the rights of way, so all the municipalities have to do is make it easy and provide utility poles or places to locate the WiFI access points. For the last half a dozen years or so I have always wondered why the cable MSO's with already existing municipal relationships didn't just give this stuff to the cities? They already had the relationships and the rights of way. And certainly they have the connectivity. In a lot of ways, they just waited to long, though I do know that with Jim Tobin, an ex AOL Voice VP, now involved in strategy at Comcast, that Comcast is not totally asleep at the switch even though they still are smarting from their loss to Earthlink in their own back yard, and my home town of Philadelphia.
So to hear that AT&T is following along the path of what Google and Earthlink are already doing and is not a surprise to me. It's clearly also not a defensive move alone to simply prevent the loss of PSTN market share. It is a very offensive move that is designed to pre-empt the cable operators from further expanding their reach nto their data network suppler space, and at the same time this type of service provides a way to reduce truck rolls too. At the same time it is also partially defensive as a way to retain mobile/cellular customers. You also have to look at how Covad is moving into WiMax with Earthlink, which is trying to become a phone company with their range of offerings, but is working with WiMax as well as WiFi players.
Here's the scenario. With Muni WiFi and a wireless bridge, the high speed signals can be brought inside buildings. In high density residential neighborhoods AT&T and MetroFi just like Earthlink and Google can bring in WiFi based phone service and replace the copper connected phone lines, while giving the consumer a "walkabout" type phone that lets them have a mobile like phone both in the house and whenever they are in the WiFi cloud's footprint. Eventually all these clouds will also have some type of roaming relationships I predict.
As these deployments occur inside the house and office connectivity will be two types. WiFi from outside and broadband inside. The company that can offer devices and technology as well as solutions that let both hemisphere's work in tandem, with handoffs and handover between them, and to the Mobile world, will really be the winner.
With this move, AT&T and Metro Fi just became significant players in the Fixed Mobile Convergence world.