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Cities Struggle With Wireless Internet
21 May 2007
(c) 2007. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

A $3 million plan to blanket Lompoc, Calif., with a wireless Internet system promised a quantum leap for economic development: The remote community hit hard by cutbacks at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base would join the 21st century with cheap and plentiful high-speed access. Instead, nearly a year after its launch, Lompoc Net is limping along. The central California city of 42,000, surrounded by rolling hills, wineries and flower fields more than 17 miles from the nearest major highway, has only a few hundred subscribers.

That's far fewer than the 4,000 needed to start repaying loans from the city's utility coffers, potentially leaving smaller reserves to guard against electric rate increases.

And Lompoc isn't alone. Across the United States, many cities are finding their Wi-Fi projects costing more and drawing less interest than expected, leading to worries that a number will fail, resulting in millions of dollars in wasted tax dollars or grants when there had been roads to build and crime to fight.

More than $230 million was spent in the United States last year, and the industry Web site MuniWireless projects $460 million will be spent in 2007.

Without revenues they had counted on to offset that spending, elected officials might have to break promises or find money in already-tight budgets to subsidize the systems for the low-income families and city workers who depend on the access. Cities might end up running the systems if companies abandon networks they had built.

The worries come as big cities like Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., complete pilots and expand their much-hyped networks.

"They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered," said Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank.

Municipal Wi-Fi projects use the same technology behind wireless access in coffee shops, airports and home networks. Hundreds or thousands of antennas are installed atop street lamps and other fixtures. Laptops and other devices have Wi-Fi cards that relay data to the Internet through those antennas, using open, unregulated broadcast frequencies. In theory, one could check e-mail and surf the Web from anywhere.

About 175 U.S. cities or regions have citywide or partial systems, and a similar number plan them, according to Esme Vos, founder of MuniWireless.

Rhode Island has proposed a statewide network, while one in California would span dozens of Silicon Valley municipalities. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta also want one.

Because systems are just coming online, it's premature to say how many or which ones will fail under current operating plans, but the early signs are troubling.

"I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers' money," said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. "The government is getting into hotly contested services."

Most communities, including Lompoc, paid for their projects. Elsewhere, private companies agreed to absorb costs for the chance to sell services or ads.

The vendors remain confident despite technical and other problems. Chuck Haas, MetroFi Inc.'s chief executive, said Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper to build than cable and DSL, which is broadband over phone lines.

Demand could grow once more cell phones can make Wi-Fi calls and as city workers improve productivity by reading electric meters remotely, for instance.

Balhoff, however, believes the successful projects are most likely to be in remote places that traditional service providers skip -- and fewer and fewer of those areas exist. Cities, he said, should focus on incentives to draw providers.

In Lompoc's case, officials say construction was delayed about a year once they realized wireless antennas had to be packed more closely together. Then the city learned that its stucco homes have a wire mesh that blocks signals, making Internet service poor or nonexistent indoors without extra equipment.

But more importantly, just as Lompoc committed to the network, cable and telephone companies arrived with better equipment and service, undercutting the city's offerings.

"It seemed like we announced we were going to do this and that and the next day we got trucks from the providers doing this and that, when we've been asking for years and nothing ever happened," Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees said.

D.A. Taylor, who runs a software business from her home, said Lompoc's Wi-Fi service lacks key features she gets through DSL.

"It's a really great idea, but they didn't spend a lot of time thinking who their target market was," Taylor said.

DeWees acknowledged that Lompoc might have to pull the plug if it cannot boost subscriptions, but he said the city still has an aggressive marketing push in store. Lompoc recently slashed prices by $9, to $16 a month, for the main household plan.

Just a few years ago, these municipal wireless projects seemed foolproof.

Politicians got to tout Internet access for city workers and poorer households -- many programs include giveaways for lower-income families. Some cities bear no upfront costs when a company pays for construction in exchange for rights to use fixtures like lamp poles.

Vendors like EarthLink Inc. saw a chance to offset declines in dial-up subscriptions. MetroFi, offering free service, got to join the burgeoning market for online advertising. Google Inc. also is jumping in for the ads, partnering with EarthLink in San Francisco, although the city's Board of Supervisors is resisting their joint proposal.

As projects get deployed, both sides are seeing ****** in their plans.

Many cities and vendors underestimated the number of wireless antennas needed. MobilePro Corp.'s Kite Networks wound up tripling the access points in Tempe, Ariz., adding roughly $1 million, or more than doubling the costs.

"The industry is really in its infancy, and what works on paper doesn't work that same way once you get into the real world," said Jerry Sullivan, Kite's chief executive.

Networks like St. Cloud, Fla., and Portland, meanwhile, shared Lompoc's difficulties penetrating building walls, requiring indoor users to buy signal boosters for as much as $150. And when it works, service can be slower than cable and DSL.

"There's an antenna literally at the curb of my house, but when I've tried to log on, it cuts in and out," said Landon Dirgo, who runs a computer repair shop in Lompoc.

One recent sunny afternoon in Portland, few could be found surfing the Internet from the city's downtown parks.

Mari Borden, a student at Portland State, said she couldn't connect to MetroFi's free network from several locations, even though her computer could detect a signal (MetroFi officials say users might need stronger wireless cards to send back a signal).

The vendors insist they have been upfront with customers about limitations. But MetroFi's Adrian van Haaften said managing expectations can be challenging.

EarthLink said it has 2,000 customers in four markets -- New Orleans; Milpitas and Anaheim, Calif.; and Philadelphia -- paying $22 or less a month. MetroFi said it had 8,000 free users in Portland in April, averaging 10 hours online; the city says about 1,000 use the network on any given day.

Although both companies say their numbers are good given that their networks aren't fully built yet, they also are realigning expectations.

MetroFi will insist that future contracts commit cities to spend a specific amount for public safety and other municipal applications. EarthLink, which recently suspended new bids while it focuses on existing projects, said it would likely seek minimums, too.

Glenn Fleishman, editor of the Wi-Fi Networking News site, said vendors could no longer afford to treat projects as testbeds and loss leaders for winning publicity and new business.

Municipalities, meanwhile, are becoming more cautious. Applying lessons from other municipalities, Boston plans to raise money upfront from local groups and businesses and avoid tax dollars or a corporate partner.

Competition and expectations will only increase as DSL and cable modems get faster.

Users today are struggling with e-mail and the Web over some wireless systems, yet video and online games will require even more capacity.

"Most people if they are going to do serious work aren't looking to be sitting in a park," said Eric Rabe, a spokesman for DSL provider Verizon Communications Inc. "They want to be at a desk where they have their papers or business records."

Lompoc's backers, though, still claim success, "even if the whole network were to be written off tomorrow," said Mark McKibben, Lompoc's former wireless consultant.

"Prices dropped and quality of service went up," he said. "That's the way a lot of cities look at it. They don't look at business profits and losses. They see it as a driver for quality of life."

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AP Business Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco and Associated Press Writer Sarah Skidmore in Portland contributed to this report.
 

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with a wireless Internet system promised a quantum leap for economic development:
It will be a quantum leap in cancer and brain tumor development and nothing more.
Theres nothing that I hate more than wifi. Well, with the exception of mobiles maybe.
 

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very good point.
Actually, I think that this is one reason why city wifi has failed to begin with. You can connect to the Internet anywhere if you have a Sprint or Verizon or Cingular network card. You don't need to be in a big city. So what is the purpose of free coverage in big cities? Anyone that wants wifi is most likely going to want it anywhere, whether they be in a big city, in a suburb, at the airport, or as a passenger on an Interstate. Wireless companies know this and consequently make their product available in that manner. Providing coverage to a limited area, meaning just that one city, is not going to meet the demands of very many consumers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
US cities' Wi-Fi dreams fading fast

WASHINGTON, Sept 23, 2007 (AFP) - Ambitious plans for big Wi-Fi networks to provide free or low-cost wireless Internet access are being abandoned or scaled back by US cities as the economics of the deals turn out to be more challenging than expected.

San Francisco and Chicago in recent weeks abruptly halted plans to set up municipal Wi-Fi networks while Internet giant Earthlink, a partner for a number of cities, has begun a reorganization that will limit new projects.

Wi-Fi, one of the most popular standards for wireless Internet access, had been seen as a means of connecting more people at a relatively low cost, and city leaders across the United States had been rushing to use the technology for "digital inclusion" programs for low-income residents.

But cities and companies are finding the economics more difficult, with many expensive access points needed and relatively small numbers of subscribers signing on.

"I think it's a troubled market," said Daryl Schoolar, senior analyst at the research firm In-Stat.

"Some thought a lot of people would rush out with laptops and would use it. But Wi-Fi doesn't really penetrate buildings well. And people use Wi-fi mainly in hotels, airports and cafes."

Although some privately operated Wi-Fi deployments in these high-density locations have become popular, analysts say the notion of a large municipal network blanketing cities is questionable.

MuniWireless, a website tracking municipal projects, counts over 400 cities in planning or development of Wi-Fi networks. But analysts say only a small percentage of these are operating, and many are primarily for police or public-safety access.

"The problem is finding a business model that really works," said Stan Schatt, analyst with ABI Research.

"Originally the municipalities came into this by saying they would offer Wi-Fi and get a free ride for their internal networks, and it turns out it doesn't work that way."

In San Francisco, Google was preparing to back a citywide Wi-Fi program with Earthlink that would be free for users who agree to view online ads, with paying customers getting an ad-free version. But the city was unable to come to terms with Earthlink before the firm pulled out and announced a massive reorganization on August 28.

Chicago officials announced August 31 they would "re-evaluate" their plan after two potential partners failed to come up with a suitable plan because a network required "extraordinary financial support" from the city.

"In Chicago and in many other cities, a municipal Wi-Fi network was initially envisioned as a way to provide cheaper, high-speed access to consumers," said Hardik Bhatt, the city's chief information officer.

"But given the rapid pace of changing technology, in just two short years, the marketplace has altered significantly."

Ahead of the other major cities, Philadelphia meanwhile is rolling out its Wi-Fi network, having covered more than half of the city's 350 square kilometers (135 square miles).

The nonprofit Wireless Philadelphia organization has provided some 300 low-income residents with laptops and wireless "bundles" at a price of around 10 dollars per month. Free access is provided in many parks, and customers can sign up for citywide access for about 20 dollars monthly.

"Philadelphia remains the showcase city for municipal wireless networks," said Wireless Philadelphia chief executive Greg Goldman, who indicated partner Earthlink's reorganization would not affect the project.

Earthlink said it would keep its commitment to that city but would not take on any new projects using the "old business model."

"We will not devote any new capital to the old municipal Wi-Fi model that has us taking all the risk by fronting all the capital, then paying to buy our customers one by one," Rolla Huff, EarthLink president and chief executive, told a conference call with analysts. "That model is simply unworkable."

"EarthLink's reorganization may be the reality check that the municipal broadband market needs," says analyst Joe Panettieri, writing on MuniWireless.

"Too many municipalities continue to focus on large, ambitious public wireless projects that have no clear path to profitability."

Yet analysts say that despite the problems of municipal Wi-Fi programs, wireless Internet access is growing and more networks will be coming in some form.

Other technologies are promising including WIMAX, which has a longer range for each access point. Spint Nextel and Clearwire are planning big WIMAX rollouts in the United States and other countries, analysts say.

"There are many versions of this wireless technology, some will work and some won't, and we're in the early innings," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom industry analyst.

But Kagan said the idea of cities providing Internet access appears doubtful.

"This is a technology that is changing so quickly that you have to allow the industry to handle it on a competitive basis to keep the prices low and innovation high," Kagan said.

"When government gets involved in these projects, no matter what government, it just trips over itself."
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
MetroFi ending free wi-fi in Portland
19 June 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - With no buyers in sight, MetroFi's free wireless projects in Portland and several other cities appear to be coming to an end.

California-based MetroFi Inc. contracted with Portland in 2006 to blanket the city with a network for free, wireless Internet access -- the company's largest project.

But it was plagued early on by spotty service and according to some, a weak business model. MetroFi stopped expanding the Portland network last fall with the project less than 30 percent complete.

Recently, the company announced it would shut down most of its networks on June 20, unless the cities or investors stepped in to buy them. No buyers surfaced.

Portland officials say the company has since informed them the system will go down on June 30 and begin to dismantle it after that.

MetroFi did not return multiple calls and e-mails for comment. But the company Web site indicates it will shut down on nearly all of its municipal wireless sites, which include a handful of communities in California and Illinois.

MetroFi's is not the only municipal wi-fi effort to go awry.

Earthlink abandoned a $17 million wi-fi network in Philadelphia earlier this month when it couldn't get enough customers. Local investors announced earlier this week that they will take over the troubled system and continue some free service, but add for-fee business as well.

Other smaller communities with free municipal wi-fi network services for the public struggled with poor service and speed.

Yet other parts of the country have launched tremendously successful networks.

Years ago, Hermiston, Ore., established what was the world's largest wi-fi cloud at the time, offering free access to the public and fee service for large farms and other businesses. Last year, Minneapolis tested the limits of its partially completed system during the massive bridge collapse, using its network to help keep city services running and emergency responders connected.

The key difference is most of the surviving municipal systems have relied on steady streams of revenue from the city or other large subscribers.

"Basically there are two tracks: the fatally flawed track and the successful but quietly executed track," said Craig Settles, an independent consultant and author of "Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless."

MetroFi, which Settles puts in the fatally flawed category, was designed with no buy-in from the city of Portland. MetroFi planned to finance and operate the network itself and make money from advertising on its free network.

To the city, it was a bit of a gamble to try a new means to get Internet access to low-income individuals but with little to risk.

"We are disappointed that MetroFi's business model did not pan out but glad that it was not a financial risk to taxpayers," said Brendan Finn, chief of staff at Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office.

Other cities were enticed by the idea of being able to offer residents a way to connect.

"It was the most impossible deal you could imagine," Settles said. "Every mayor in every small town would be famous for at least a day if they stood up on a soapbox and said, 'We are going to have this free service.' "

But the systems typically relied on advertising for income, and some businesses were skittish about the new format, particularly after it got panned by users.

And the drawback of wi-fi as a means of digital inclusion is that the best coverage is outdoors -- connecting indoors requires boosters or other add-ons that cost money.

As a result, cities are instead looking at a combination of wireless and wired or free and subscriber service to succeed.

"We had the high-profile rabbits and the rational well-planned tortoises," Settles said. "Years later the high-profile rabbits are dying and the tortoises are coming on through. They will be the poster kids for 2009."
 

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^^ I'm working right under a major powerline, I don't notice any difference yet, but my boss wants to relocate because of those power lines.

Anyway, people carry cell phones with them all the time too...
 

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The thing is there are major sources of EM emissions everywhere nowadays, from radio and TV to cell phones and 3G internet, radar, GPS, etc. The amount of energy involved in such transmissions and the penetration of the EM waves in the commonly used frequencies, however, are supposed to be so weak they don't have any discernible effect.

Take some basic high school physics/chemistry and you'll gain a better understanding of it. On the face of what I learned, it shouldn't be anything to worry about, but like you guys, I have my doubts. But there are so many other things out there that can kill you it's really no use worrying about things that are ubiquitous.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Free wireless Internet no longer at some NYC parks
8 January 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Some New York City parks no longer have free wireless Internet access after a contractor that installed and managed the networking equipment ran out of money.

Wi-Fi Salon is removing wireless equipment from seven spots in Central Park and two spots in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Several smaller parks in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx will also lose service. Other parks will continue to have wireless Internet through alternate arrangements.

Wi-Fi Salon Founder Marshall W. Brown told the New York Times that he was unable to sustain costs after being unable to find corporate sponsorship.

The city Parks Department said it would soon announce new plans to expand access to broadband Internet technology.
 

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Some companies use ads to support their services. Other look for corporate sponsors to fund their operations. Still others may BE running at a lost, but are subsidized by the government.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Google to build high-speed Internet network
10 February 2010

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Google Inc plans to build a super-fast Internet network for up to half a million people, a project that could pressure telecommunications companies to loosen their control of Web access in the United States.

The Internet company has locked horns with the likes of AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc over the issue of net neutrality: Google wants telephone companies to permit consumers to run any Web application they want, while carriers do not want to lose control of networks they have invested billions of dollars to build.

In building the test network, Google wants to demonstrate a carrier could easily manage complex applications that use a lot of bandwidth without sacrificing performance.

Google said on Wednesday it does not plan to build a nationwide network and its goal is only to develop a trial service at a "competitive price" to 50,000 to 500,000 people, offering Web speeds of up to 100 times faster than most consumers get today.

"In a big way, this is about Google wanting to make a case for net neutrality," said PRTM consultant Daniel Hays, adding that Google wants to "demonstrate these services can be provided profitably at satisfactory levels of performance."

In a blog describing the new network, Google imagined a doctor discussing and looking at three-dimensional medical images with a patient far away, students joining a class from various locations in 3-D, or someone downloading a high-definition movie very quickly.

Google said the network would run on fiber optic lines to homes, but declined to give more details.

FCC WELCOMES MOVE

Google asked cities and states interested in joining the experiment to apply to Google by March 26 and said it eventually would build the network in a number of U.S. locations.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski immediately hailed the move, saying "big broadband creates big opportunities." The FCC is about a month away from submitting a national broadband plan to Congress.

Google's "significant trial will provide an American test bed for the next generation of innovative, high-speed Internet apps, devices and services," Genachowski said in a statement.

Google has long argued it can sell more Web ads -- the way it makes money -- by encouraging Internet use.

Analysts said they did not think Google would end up competing directly with carriers as it would cost the Internet company hundreds of billions of dollars to build a nationwide broadband network from scratch.

"If somehow they were able to widely deploy this, it would be bad for the cable and telecom folks. I'm skeptical the economics will work to allow them to deploy it widely," said Hudson Square Research analyst Todd Rethemeier.

A Verizon spokesman described the Google move as a "new paragraph" in the "exciting story" of Internet development.

AT&T declined to comment.

Google has had mixed success in previous attempts to become an Internet service provider. In 2006, it partnered with EarthLink Inc in an attempt to provide free wireless Internet access to the entire city of San Francisco. The plan fell through in 2007 over financial concerns.

At the same time, however, Google built a free wireless network across its headquarter's city of Mountain View, Calif.

Each of those attempts, however, leveraged wireless broadband access. This time, Google is dealing in hard lines.

HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?

Oppenheimer & Co analyst Timothy Horan said he suspected building out the trial broadband network would cost Google about $1,000 to $2,000 per subscriber if it bought unused fiber lines already underneath many cities.

"They can buy a lot of this stuff fairly inexpensively that's out there already," he said, adding that communications service providers, such as Level 3 Communications Inc , would have lines to sell to Google.

Google said it would pay for building the network itself without seeking financial partners or government subsidies and then charge consumer and business customers.

"We'll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections," Google product managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly wrote in the blog.

Google said it wanted the project to become an open-access network, enabling products such as Internet telephony.

"I think there are a lot of partnership opportunities and we are definitely interested in having those discussions," Ingersoll said.

Mountain View, California-based Google's shares fell about 0.4 percent to close $534.44 on the Nasdaq.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thu, Apr 05, 2012
Wireless alliance opens Taipei office
Taipei Times with CNA

The chairman of a wireless group said on Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the opening of a Taipei office that the technology it provides would help Taiwan lead a wireless lifestyle.

Taiwan is an important link in the global information and communications technology sector, which is why the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance decided to set up an office in Taipei, alliance chairman Ali Sadri said.

The wireless technology that the alliance provides is faster than that available through Wi-Fi, which is widely used in Taiwan, he said.

For example, the transfer of a high-definition DVD could take 30 minutes via Wi-Fi, but only a few seconds using WiGig.

WiGig technology can be used to connect PCs, tablets, handheld gadgets, peripherals, displays and other devices, he added.

Sadri said that since electronics manufacturers are emphasizing ultra-thin devices such as Ultrabooks or tablet computers, with the reduced number of USB ports possible on such devices, it was a great time for the development of wireless technology.

Established in 2009, members of the WiGig Alliance include Intel Corp, Panasonic Corp and Qualcomm Corp, he said.

Cheng Sheng-ching (鄭聖慶), executive secretary of the Committee of Communications Industry Development under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said the establishment of a WiGig Taipei office was a “win-win” development.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Problems plaguing city's free Wi-Fi service
Shanghai Daily
Aug 1, 2012

A free Wi-Fi program financed by the city government has been just launched downtown but is currently troubled by weak, unstable signals, unready support facilities and small user numbers due to low publicity.

The program, called i-Shanghai, offers everyone two hours of free wireless Internet service on their mobile phones or laptops while they are at certain public venues.

But a Shanghai Daily investigation showed the service was far from satisfactory at many localities it covers during its trial operation.

The reporters yesterday tried the service with smartphones at the Shanghai Railway Station and the Shanghai South Railway Station and discovered its Wi-Fi signal was unstable and users frequently faced sign-in failures.

Several passengers at the stations tried logging onto the network but they repeatedly failed to receive an effective password that is supposed to be automatically sent to their mobile phones to open the free Internet service.

Also, the program signal was strong in certain areas but impossible to track in places such as corridors by the waiting lounge, the reporters found.

And users would need to stand still when using the program as the signal would suddenly disappear or turn very weak when the users walked around.

User-unfriendly

"I give a thumb-up for such service ... But I really hope the service could be stable and more user-friendly," said a passenger surnamed Li at the Shanghai South Railway Station.

Some other named localities such as the sightseeing Binjiang Avenue, the Bund and Tianzifang were also experiencing very weak or unstable signals, making smooth Internet surfing barely possible, the reporters found.

"The program currently couldn't ensure stability and it's not convenient to log in. So I would rather opt for the free Wi-Fi provided by the exhibition facility," said a woman surnamed Huang, a visitor to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum yesterday.

Unavailability

Apart from the unstable signal, the reporters also found the service was barely available at some localities announced to be covered.

The service was still unavailable at People's Park by yesterday afternoon though it's officially claimed to be ready for the program.

A park worker confirmed technicians had not finished installing the support facilities inside the park yet.

Besides, the reporters visited about half of the 30 named public localities and found most of the people there didn't know about the government-financed Wi-Fi program.

They urged authorities to set up signboards bearing the i-Shanghai logo with some brief service instructions on them inside public venues to boost the program's publicity.

Authorities, however, said the i-Shanghai program will improve technically and expand quickly.

The service provider said in response to the complaints that the program is still in trial operation and will soon be technically reinforced to ensure better stability.

The city government said yesterday that 78 local hospitals will join the program before the end of this year.

By the end of this year, the free Wi-Fi service will cover about 300 places, and the number is expected to reach 450 by the end of next year.
 

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I always thought that in most big cities you could already get wifi. We get the t mobile cloud network which works the same as city wide wifi
 

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Wi-Fi in cities is completely unnecessary, cities are already blanketed in 3G and LTE 4G networks. Everyone has a connection to it already through their phones, most carriers offer tethering. Although as I understand it in the US carriers charge extra for tethering, which is a problem.


Is anyone a little concerned about blanketing the city with more radiowaves? I wonder if we are doing ourselves harm in the long run.
They lack the energy to affect atoms, it's non-ionising radiation. The radiowaves are not capable of damaging DNA, it is an impossibility. Like trying to penetrate a tank with a paint gun.
Who knows what health impacts the radio waves have, but one thing is for sure, they can not cause cancer.
 
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