Taking Aim and Telling the Truth
Cable Operators Implement WiFi Roaming

Why Free Wi-Fi Doesn't Work

Today, CIO Journal has a story on public Wi-Fi and how customers are clogging the networks at Panera, someting that's nothing new to me. And I'm taking a bite out of it. Back in the day when public hotspots were just starting out, only a few of us were even using public Wi-Fi, and locations were not so easy to find. Places like Starbucks and Panera Bread locations offered access, paid at Starbucks vs. the free it is today when T-Mobile was powering it, and Panera which was powered by ICOA.

Sadly, T-Mobile basically dropped out of the hotspot business for the most part keeping only a few locations, and Starbucks turned to AT&T for a solution. T-Mobile's service in reality offered amazing scalability and reliable connectivity and even today, long after the acquisition of Wayport by AT&T, the Starbucks spots have never been the same. ICOA's service at Panera was good until the growth of hotspot usage started to spike and my own experiences at Panera's were so bad that I stopped going to Panera or began bringing my own portable hotspots to breakfast there. The same good to bad experience occured at Sacramento and San Diego International Airports until they changed providers or brought the Wi-Fi in house.

Let's face it, people have a need for speed, but beyond speed, they want reliable connectivity, not slow loading pages, or choppy Skype, VoIP and Video calls. We want DNS that works to get our web pages on our screen, and email to flow fast, so as hotspot usage grew the service levels has never really kept up with it. Now today, with increased usage of conference calls and services like WebEX, Go To Meeting and LiveMeeting part of the business person's everyday life the demand, like with wireless spectrum is starting to outstrip supply.

The same is true at hotels, and largely the problem is understanding. Hotels, especially chain hotels, and chain restaurants, coffee shops and other "public" places where you find WiFi budget and plan their capital expenditures on an annual basis. But Wi-Fi is an operating expense once you get past the sunk cost for hardware and "smarter" sevrices that support on-demand levels are rarely implemented. And there is the rub. Capacity and the ability to get at it. 

As a road warrior who needs reliable, business grade Internet access, wired or Wireless, the mobile operators who are proposing WiFi offload so they need to step up and implement services that scale the WiFi because we know that they can't scale their spectrum today, but maybe someday, they will.

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John Von Essen

So I have some experience in large free wifi installations... I consulted for and did the redesign of the Earthlink municipal wifi network for Philadelphia. For a brief period of time between acquisitions, we made it 100% free - after we fixed all the Earthlink issues of course. We got up to around 180Mbps of throughput, and when analyzing the traffic, alot of it was youtube and itunes.

Retailers who have their hotspots overrun can easily solve these issues by simply throttling bandwidth and protocols. The hardware to do this is not that expensive. You can easily share a 10Mbps connection for many many people, if you restrict those people to basic web browsing. The problem is most retailers just put a dumb wireless router there and let it sing... No management...


Free wi-fi does not work because people abuse it. Walk around Starbucks or Panera and you can find many "working" while streaming music or watching Youtube videos. It is unfair to blame the providers for such irresponsible usage.

Classic "problem of commons"!!

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