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EarthLink's muni-WiFi challenges in Anaheim

Atlanta, GA-based EarthLink was created in 1994 as a dial-up provider, but has since become a major player in muni-WiFi: It has eight contracts so far to provide cities with WiFi service, with the two largest being Philadelphia and San Francisco. The company currently offers broadband service to slightly more than five million subscribers, but Garry Betty, the company's president and CEO, says that when all contracts are fulfilled, the company will have more than 25 million homes serviced by its networks.

Offering muni-WiFi to such a large groups is a challenge, and ZDNet's Amanda Termen has set to out to examine how EarthLink manages its muni-WiFi service on a smaller sale, at the city of Anaheim, CA. As she reports it, Anaheim covers about 49 square miles and the company will use a mesh-network with routers mounted on street poles. Currently only 20 percent of the city is covered, and upload and download speeds are limited to 1 Mbps. The company says that the crowded 2.4 GHz band has been a problem, but that walls have been even a more serious obstacle to quality transmission. The company's engineers also say that this problem is only going to be more severe in more densely built-up cities, especially cities with hilly landscapes. Another problem: High-rises. The router signals from the light poles on which they are mounted reach only the third or fourth floor of high-rise buildings, and there is a need for additional equipment such as roof-top antennas to allow a signal to reach the upper floors.

The quality of the service is essential: To break even, let alone make money, EarthLink will have to have at least 15,000-20,000 Anaheim subscribers willing to pay $21.95 a month for the service--and they will not do so if the quality is poor.

For more on EarthLink's Anaheim deployment:
- read Amanda Termen's ZDNet report

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