A lack of vision, detailed plans and effective management is crippling efforts to rollout municipal wireless networks in many North American cities. Delivering the opening address at the Strategy Institute's 2nd Annual Municipal Wireless Summit in Toronto on January 30, Craig Settles, president of Successful.com, cited various factors that led to the downfall of municipal wireless projects. "Failures came about because people were trying to get something for nothing," said Settles, in an interview with Report on Wireless. "The whole idea was to get a vendor to come in and build a multi-million dollar network and either fund it or get their money back from subscriptions to the general public or selling ads. This was totally erroneous and totally misguided and slow downed the development of industry." The failures took various shapes. In some cities, the networks were built and went live, but did not generate enough revenue to sustain themselves, such as Lompoc CA and Tempe AZ. In other cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago, and Anchorage, where there was much hoopla about the creation of a muni wireless network, vendors backed out from the plan when it became clear that muni wireless would be a money-losing proposition. News reports sounding the death knell of Wi-Fi and municipal wireless ensued. "There was a lot of political equity invested," Settles said. "There was no money invested, but there was a failure of process and public relations disasters. You could call them ‘soft cost' failures." The benefits of the muni networks still remain, according to Settles. Muni networks improve government operations through less reliance on paper, and consequently less paperwork, can provide mobile workers access to more data, and can improve interdepartmental operations. Muni networks also address the digital divide by extending broadband Internet to ensure underserved areas. "The city is going to play a role in bringing the technology to them," said Settles, "The private sector has no interest in trying to serve those communities. If a city is serious about bringing its underserved communities into the technology arena, it has to be the driving force to bring some sort of connectivity into these areas." "It's not always poor people; underserved can be people in remote areas," he added. "In either case, there is no private sector incentive to be there. That means it's incumbent on the government to play a role. If they don't, then it won't happen." Those networks still standing and sustaining in 2008 are the survivors, declared Settles. They include smaller cities such as Providence RI; Fredericton NB; Santa Monica CA; and Corpus Christi TX. They continue to plod along with wireless efforts in a slow but sure fashion. "These were never really the big headliners," he noted. "They were not part of the hype machine of 2007. Some have been at this for two or three years. They will be models for cities in 2008 and beyond." In other regions, several rural communities with populations of about 1,000 are banding together to develop sufficient critical mass to benefit from wireless access. Populations willing to pay for the subscriptions to wireless can overcome financing as a hurdle in the deployment of a wireless network, said Settles. A mid-sized city such as Minneapolis with about 300,000 people recently came online, and Settles predicts that Philadelphia will be the first major city to have an expansive wireless network, with economic development being the driver to wireless deployment. Once cities like Minneapolis and Philadelphia have established short-term success, other North American cities will likely reconsider their network options, he added. "When a major city like Philadelphia has a six-month track record, then the interest for wireless will be renewed in places like Chicago and Los Angeles." Cities themselves, of course, would be major customers on a wireless network, by serving public organizations such as universities, schools and hospitals. "There has to be planning for the network and realistic understanding of the goals of the service provider," said Settles. For Minneapolis, having even a partially developed muni wireless network proved worth the investment last summer when an interstate bridge collapsed. "The city invested in the network, and the network proved its value when it was only 25% built," he said. "It provided viable services to the emergency responders, both local and out of town. It provided a viable service for other government workers such as IT and traffic management." During the crisis, the cellular network went down and the city responded by providing its muni network free for 48 hours, stressed Settles. "It demonstrated the weakness of the cellular network across the board and the value of the network in an emergency," he said. "Cellular networks are totally vulnerable to voice traffic overload in a disaster. If that happens, there is no expectation that you can communicate with each other. It points to the need for city involvement in these kinds of network projects, even if it's just for city use. At the very least, it (muni network) is a back-up option for the cellular network."