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October 12, 2006 at 11:44 AM

WiMax World: Muni Wi-Fi debate

BOSTON — The city of Seattle has been researching the future of Internet access for its residents for some time.

A while ago, it decided that a municipal Wi-Fi system would not be enough to fullfill our future bandwidth needs. Instead, it found that laying fiber to the home would be best.

Since then, it has asked companies that may be interested in such a plan to submit letters explaining how they would build a network.

Kirkland-based Clearwire, which is at WiMax World this week, submitted a letter. I asked Ben Wolff, Clearwire’s chief executive, whether it was interested in working with municpalities on broadband networks.

The answer was a clear “yes.” Followed by details on how it was working with Fairfax, Va., on a hybrid WiMax-like and Wi-Fi network. Wolff didn’t have all the details — it was unclear if Clearwire was building both the Wi-Fi and WiMax components and whether it would operate them.

But he explained his reasoning as to why it made sense for there to be two wireless broadband networks in one city and how he could still attract customers when Wi-Fi might be cheaper, if not free.

He explained that Wi-Fi is good for outdoor coverage and basic service. But if people are looking for indoor coverage, faster speeds and a certain level of quality, they will have the option of upgrading to Clearwire’s WiMax-like service.

“There’s a place for muni-Wi-Fi and Clearwire in the world. They are complementary,” Wolff said.

Needless to say, Clearwire was not one of the 11 companies picked by the city to go through a second phase of planning.

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