Dvorak: Cell-Phone Carriers Want to Destroy Municipal Wi-Fi

There is mounting evidence that the cellular service companies are going to do whatever they can to kill Wi-Fi. After all, it is a huge long-term threat to them.

We've seen that the route to success in America today is via public gullibility and general ignorance. And these cell-phone-service companies are no dummies.

The always-entertaining Pew Internet & American Life Project ran a survey, and the results show that 34 percent of Internet users have gone online with a Wi-Fi connection or one of those newly popular and overpriced cell-phone services. Two years ago, this number was 22 percent.

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Another factoid from the survey: 19 percent of all users have Wi-Fi in the home. This number was a mere 10 percent just one year ago.

The last tidbit from the survey worth noting is that only 56 percent of the people who have PDAs that hook to the Internet have actually gone on the Net via their PDA.

The same goes for the people who have cell phones with Internet capability; not much more than half have actually used it.

Let's go over a few unproven, albeit obvious, facts.

A good portion of the public has cell phones that can go on the Net, but these people have no clue how to do so.

When asked, they will likely say their cell phone doesn't have the capability, even though it does.

A good portion of the public with cell phones that can access the Net cannot grasp the concept in their brain, since going on the Net usually means sitting at a keyboard, looking at a big screen, and typing stuff.

What's more, a good portion of the public has been told that their phone can go on the Internet, and they think they are on the Internet when making calls. These folks would likely answer yes to a query about the Internet even if their phone had no Internet access whatsoever.

Heck, let's cut to the chase. A good portion of the public doesn't really know what wireless means. If a Comcast wire is coming into the house, then it's wired, and that's that.

The point is that there just aren't that many people out there who have any idea what they are doing.

All you have to do is sit at the airport when two people begin to discuss the Internet. Someone will have an EV-DO card and call it Wi-Fi and say how neat it will be when San Francisco goes all Wi-Fi and he can use the card for free access instead of having to pay Sprint when he boots to the network. "Won't that be great!?"

Of course, this has been made all the more confusing since the introduction of those newer EDGE and EV-DO network cards that people are using at an exorbitant price to get an e-mail connection with their laptop.

Cut to my favorite commercial.

Two jokers are on a park bench with their laptops. One has a slow cell-network card, and the other has a faster network card from Sprint.

One guy uploads a file and says good-bye to his hapless friend, who is left to become an ornament for pigeons.

Why did the one guy leave his pal? What are these two jerks doing outside with laptops downloading and uploading files? If they are that busy, then shouldn't they still be in the office finishing up on a high-speed network?

It's all too mysterious for me. In fact, the sudden emergence of the whole cell network as your Internet connection is to show the public that there is plenty of wireless connectivity already and, golly, stop the idea of doing free Wi-Fi in municipalities.

It's not about the technology. It's about the threat of Wi-Fi overall. And I mean free Wi-Fi in particular.

If you take a city the size of San Francisco and give the entire population free high-speed Wi-Fi, think of the applications that will fall into place. That includes VoIP calls galore. Move over, cell phone; hello, Wi-Fi phone.

It's no coincidence that these commercials for EV-DO and others for plug-in cell phone network cards cropped up just at the same time the market got hit with a slew of Wi-Fi phones and Wi-Fi/cell combo phones. Wi-Fi needs to die!

These phone companies are going to do everything they can to trash 802.11, especially 802.11n, which may eventually be as fast as 600 megabits per second.

Here's the value proposition. Wi-Fi is currently at 54 Mbps and has been for years. Reaching 100 Mbps is easily achievable thanks to pre-n and other tricks.

The cell connections run from 384 Kbps with EDGE up to maybe 2 Mbps on EV-DO, if you're lucky. These are the speeds we were playing with 10 years ago, but now they're some sort of breakthrough.

Yes, it's a kind of breakthrough, considering the phone companies' old 115-Kbps GPRS clunker technologies.

For these speeds — which are capped, mind you, so you cannot actually use what you are sold — you pay $50, $60, maybe $70 a month. And for that money, you get to send files from a park bench a couple of times a week or maybe once a month from the airport.

Is the public so stupid that if given the choice between that service and free municipal Wi-Fi, they'd want the slower expensive service over the free faster service?

Probably not when the extremes are that broad, but you can be sure that the local politicians will cave on this, and we can forget free municipal Wi-Fi and Skype phones.

Free is, by definition, communist! And it hurts free enterprise!

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