Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

September 16, 2008

Muni Broadband & Econ Development – Still a Hot Couple

Filed under: Municipal broadband,The business case — Craig Settles @ 4:43 pm

In the height of muni wireless hype, many politicians said these networks would tackle economic development by attracting new businesses, drawing more tourists, convincing college grads to come back home and retaining current business. They also predicted greater personal economic development by closing the digital divide in poor neighborhoods.

All this, of course, was when muni wireless was free. Once municipalities realized they have to pay for these networks, you don’t hear much about commercial economic development unless people are talking about wired broadband networks. And the digital divide so many times isn’t part of the discussion. Except when Meraki comes to town.

Meraki’s stealth impact on the role of muni wireless in economic development is reflected in today’s progress report on their network in S.F.

First, they did what EarthLink tried, but unfortunately failed, to do – created a citywide proof-of-concept network in a major metropolitan area by giving that network away for free. Yet Meraki is avoiding the fatal “free” business model by forcing everyone else to pay for their network.

Second, Meraki’s perfecting its sales pitch to both municipal governments and local business communities: “our network’s an investment in retail businesses that gives them a tool to increase foot traffic and purchases.” In my book, Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless, I describe how Athens, GA and Philadelphia created commercial portals on the downtowns of their wireless networks and successfully boosted business. In S.F., Meraki is working in similar fashion, though leaning more toward impacting personal economic development.

Third, in Meraki’s S.F. proof of concept, they are placing quite a few installations in community centers, public housing and senior citizen facilities to help bring underserved communities into the digital age. Obviously other cities have to pay the company for similar networks, but the S.F. project shows the cost is much lower and more focused than muni wireless of yesteryear (2006).

The bottom line? In my 2007 national survey of economic development professionals, those whose cities have muni wireless found that these networks had the greater impact in the econ dev area that politicians gave their lowest priority: making local businesses more competitive and profitable. In the upcoming months, expect muni broadband (wired and wireless) that’s targeted to local existing businesses to play a big role in economic development.

September 14, 2008

How TCO Hinders Greater Mobile App Adoption

Filed under: Deployment strategies — Craig Settles @ 11:26 pm

My recent Mobile Strategy Snapshot Report tackles the issue of TCO – total cost of ownership – and how organizations can minimize it to increase the ROI they get from mobile applications. Besides impacting ROI, several factors contributing to TCO also are limiting adoption of mobile and wireless technology among commercial and other types of organizations.

After five books and various reports on mobile and wireless business strategies, the dozens of people I talked to site in-depth end-user needs analysis as the key to implementing an application that’s used effectively. When you build crappy initial wireless infrastructure or mobile applications, the resulting problems and end user backlash make it difficult to implement new and/or improved applications.

You see this with muni wireless networks, in-house mobile apps, mobile devices that are inappropriate for the tasks at hand and so forth. Government and commercial organizations that didn’t do it right the first time now don’t want anything to do with the technology because they think it’s a failure when in fact, the failure lies with their planning processes.

The lack of device and software standards is also holding back adoption. Whether it’s mobile devices’ operating systems, mobile extensions to desktop applications or even mobile app management software, TCO goes up when departments within the same organization can’t standardize on the technology. Awareness of this reality puts the brakes on projects.

Another thing driving up TCO as well as stopping widespread mobile tech adoption are the islands of technology that already exist with mainframe, WAN or LAN applications, or the islands created due to the lack of standards I mentioned. When faced with an array of bewildering, entrenched technologies that demand an overhaul before you can seriously consider organization-wide mobility, some execs and IT staffs just throw up their hands and vow to wait for the magic solution that unties this Gordian knot.

I’m not sure there is one universal solution to this problem, but a good starting place is to focus on the data. In general, it’s data – field service reports, building maps, customer sales history, patient stats, etc – that organizations want people in the field to capture or to access from the home network. Then they want to move that data among and between departments, software applications and others outside the organization.

If organizations get their act together to do thorough needs analysis, focus time and brainpower on how to structure stored data and data capture systems in a format that enables the most types of hardware and software to capture or access this data. This by no means guarantees a complete solution to the problem of islands or lack of standards, but it could go a long way to get organizations off the dime and deploying more mobile apps.

What Cablevison’s deal means to muni broadband

Filed under: Municipal broadband — Craig Settles @ 10:43 pm

Recently an editor asked me if the introduction of free wireless service by Cablevision is an alternative to municipal wireless. Technically, it is an alternative assuming a city has no relationship with Cablevision in this endeavor. The implied question here is, does Cablevision negate the business case for muni broadband?

My take on this is two-fold.

First, I think the cable companies are in a great position to offer to the general public WiFi as a free or low-cost extension to their indoor service. The cost per sale to close “new” customers is insanely low because they can easily push their current customers into the service, and sell it as part of a cable/wireless package to totally new customers.

This low cost of acquisition, plus the fact a cable company already has in place much of the infrastructure needed to profitably manage customers, addresses one fatal flaw in offering muni wireless to the general public – it’s hard to offer cheap service and make a profit. We see how well EarthLink, MetroFi and a host of cities did in this endeavor.

However, my second point is, municipalities that are interested in using wireless services for local government employees, emergency personnel from all levels of government and underserved communities should play an active role in that cable company’s move.

Either the municipality becomes a lead customer of the wireless service, and therefore have influence over pricing and the use of some aspect of the network for the public good. Or the municipality should partner with the cable company in a formalized arrangement so local government can influence the service.

Remember, one of the main reasons the muni wireless effort took wing so quickly was that cable and telco companies weren’t doing good by consumers because incumbents take care of shareholders first. Low income residents, residents in sparsely populated areas, any communities not able to contribute to the bottom line are SOL.

Left to their own, Cablevision will roll out wireless as it best suits their profit-generating needs, which could create the same shortfalls that sparked muni wireless efforts. They already have limited free access to their existing customers only. What happens to those who can’t get or can’t afford Cablevision? What about all the benefits local governments could derive for their workers?

The bottom line? Cablevision, and cable companies in general, as a provider of free wireless is an opportunity to become an alternative to true muni wireless. But it will take municipal involvement to transform potential to reality.

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