07 March 2006

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

Last summer, I said to Bell, Rogers and Telus
In Toronto, I have had informal conversations with representatives from both Bell (Sympatico) and Rogers, the two major broadband ISPs in this geography. My advice to either or both of them is to quickly enter a partnership with the city to develop a public WiMax infrastructure covering all of Toronto. While this may cannibalize a small amount of their extant ISP access and cellular business, history has demonstrated time and again that those businesses which resist technological advancement in favour of a fundamentally obsolescent business model, lose. Period.
But did they listen? Noooooooo.

Well, it seems someone was listening, more or less.
Today Toronto Hydro Corp. is expected to announce plans to bring "municipal Wireless-Fidelity"* (WiFi for short) to Toronto. It's a mesh of radio signals that can blanket an entire city, giving subscribers wireless Internet access virtually anywhere.

Toronto Hydro was keeping mum on the project details in advance of today's news conference. But the broader dream of a wireless city looks something like this:

WiFi receiving and transmitting units will be mounted on items of urban furniture, like street lamps or pay phones. They'll pick up radio waves carrying the Internet and pass them on from street lamp to street lamp. The waves will course up and down every street in the city, through parks, schoolyards, markets and pool halls. Subscribers will surf the Internet on a park bench or in a shopping mall.
An increasing number of cities throughout North America and around the world are realizing that connectivity is increasingly being considered a "public good" - something worth investing in for the growth and well-being of the community. While commercial ISPs may complain that it is not within the public's domain to enter a commercial market with taxpayers' money, I would point out that Toronto Hydro is now an arm's-length agency, no longer a city department. For them, offering muni-WiFi is a fortuitous adjunct to the core business. The primary purpose for the WiFi network is to be able to monitor the so-called smart meters that measure electricity consumption hour-by-hour throughout the day. That Hydro can recoup its capital investment through indirect, incidental revenue is consistent with the UCaPP world it helping to construct.

Now, if the mobile carriers would kindly pay attention, this is your second wake-up call. Again, last August, I said,
Wake up Bell! Wake up Rogers! Wake up Telus! Vonage is already doing this in New Jersey! What's "this?" "This" is delivering Voice over IP via WiMax, which in an urban area looks a whole heckuva lot like 1x digital cellular - in other words, voice, text and web access via a mobile device at many times the speed, at a fraction of the cost for the average user.
Don't say I didn't warn you.

*[Note: WiFi is not short for anything. It is the proper name for IEEE's 802.11 transport protocol. The monicker "wireless fidelity" was coined by clueless newsmedia types who think that everything that sounds like an abbreviation should be an abbreviation, derived from the analogue with "high fidelity" (hi-fi) record players of the 1960s. For those under 25, a record player was what we called turntables when they were used for passive listening, rather than as a musical instrument as they are today.]
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