back to article Earthlink's city-wide Wi-Fi ambitions fade into thin air

Citywide Wi-Fi was supposed to be the lifeline that would lead Earthlink to higher ground. With two of major deals suddenly declared dead and a third on suicide watch, it's starting to look like a ball and chain. A day after dismissing half its staff to cut costs, the troubled ISP on Wednesday formally withdrew from a plan that …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wide Area WiFi Is a Pipe Dream

    The dream of ubiquitous 802.11 wireless access for all is one that lives in the minds of idealists and marketing types. Idealists can be excused, because hot-spots will always be a useful resource (assuming you can wean the UK police off their habit of arresting anyone using a computer in public on the charge of 'stealing broadband access'). Marketing types cannot be excused -- all they saw was huge orders for equipment and endless streams of revenue, and their greed made them deaf to people who might raise issues about the technology.

    The problem's the protocol. Wireless is not about data and data rates, its all about chopping up time into pieces. The 802.11 protocol chops time into quite generous chunks, especially if several stations are contending for the link, and this limits the amount of users that can be accommodated by each link. In other words, it works fine at home (most of the time) and in the office where traffic is spasmodic, but put a whole bunch of users on the link and/or try streaming some data and performance goes down the tubes big time. Various strategems have been proposed to overcome the problems with the protocol, many of them very ingenious, but ultimately you're always running up against the problem of trying to use a protocol for a purpose that it wasn't designed for. Given enough effort and equipment you may well get a system to work, but you may find that what you end up with is nothing like the network of low cost access points that was in the original Powerpoint slides.

    These problems may explain why over the last year or so the vehement and concerted opposition to municipal WiFi networks by established wireless providers seems to have just faded away. They obviously knew something was up.

  2. David Braswell

    Thats what WiMax is for.

    Almost a good thing.. They would have really lost their shirts when rolled out WiMax service next year. 2-4M with 100Million people supposed to be covered by end of next year? Think Wifi simple was the wrong technology for the job.

  3. Phil Thompson

    WiMax offers no quantum leap

    Using the same bandwidth at the same frequencies under the same regulatory power regime as 802.11 means that WiMax does not really offer an order of magnitude change, only gaining on coding efficiency and QoS.

    A short range capability of 40 MBits/s per radio channel ( divided by N subscribers leads the WiMax Forum's white paper on fixed broadband access to propose "A “best effort” service of 384kbps with 20:1 over-subscription" - sound familiar ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wimax = snake oil?

    As Phil says (and if it's the Phil T I'm thinking of, he *knows*) WiMax doesn't work technical miracles, and it also makes no worthwhile difference to the economics of backhaul, which are a major part of this picture. If WiMax did change the big picture dramatically, we'd have heard a lot more than we have done about the Intel-funded trials being carried out by the earthly remains of Pipex Wireless, who have been in the process of shutting down their pre-existing licenced fixed wireless networks, and replacing them with.... nothing, not even WiMax.

    The other obvious UK example of why wireless access isn't a mass market product is PCC or Now or whatever the company that won all of the most recent UK fixed wireless licence auctions was called. Several years on, their rollout shows no signs of going much further than a few areas of the Thames Valley, even though they've got tried and tested technology, and *paying* customers.

    How was "free" ever going to work sensibly and sustainably in volume?

  5. John Simpson

    Wi-Fi / Wi-Max The Lemming Approach

    To use a wide area approach requires a non line of sight approach and at a frequency that allows entry to buildings, I've been involved for the last 3 years supplying the Tier 1 backhaul for the i-Burst project in Belfast and tested a usable link at 12kms in a hotel bedroom, set in a hollow behind trees. It just works, hotel room or in-car wherever. Because it uses PDSN it allows both billing and easy cell transfer. System Software currently allows a real 2Mb download with 8Mb in development. The aerial is a 2cm flip on a PC card, personally I would leave the lamp posts for the dogs.

  6. Mike Hartley

    Didn't they plan before building?

    >Only after that did they learn the network wasn't likely to reach dwellings >above the third-story level or those that were a fair distance from the >sidewalk, where light poles hosting access-point antennas were located.

    So, did Earthlink really expect to be able to run a real world network by just littering the place with access points? Basic radio planning and verification techniques would've brought this to light almost straight away.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK example

    That would be UKB (UK Broadband) They use TD-CDMA. That is a technology that actually does work. Oh and so does i-Burst. Both work very well for wireless broadband. As far as WiFi solutions there are Meshes that work. The BelAir solution is a solid solution and eliminates the bulk of the issue sited by Earthlink.

    WiMax? Well we will wait and see...

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