Thanks to the influx of mobile data traffic on operator networks, widespread Wi-Fi coverage in cities is making a comeback.

While the muni-Wi-Fi concept crashed and burned in 2008 thanks to over-ambitious plans and a lack of robust equipment, 802.11n equipment coupled with some heavy-duty backhaul has spawned Wi-Fi hotzones, i.e., high-capacity Wi-Fi located in widespread city zones where the density of commuters is the highest.

AT&T Mobility has an aggressive strategy in this area in light of its struggle with the amount of smartphone data users have been consuming. With auto-authentication built into the majority of its smartphones, customers automatically roam onto the operator's Wi-Fi hotspots and hotzones without incurring data charges. AT&T launched a hotzone pilot project in New York last year and is now expanding hotzones into more areas of New York and San Francisco.

Towerstream, which sells WiMAX as a fixed broadband replacement to the enterprise, now is embarking on an initiative to become a wholesale hotzone provider, and plans to build out additional hotzones throughout New York City and other key markets, including San Francisco and Chicago. The idea is to offer 802.11n-based hotzones backhauled by its own high-capacity last-mile assets to operators on a wholesale basis, in order to enable their customers to roam onto these networks that would be capable of offering up to 200 Mbps of bandwidth. Towerstream also has been busy garnering roof-top rights to build the network.

Towerstream CEO Jeff Thompson said that his company was convinced of the business model after its pilot project in midtown Manhattan this past summer saw an average of 250,000 connections and more than one terabyte of data transferred per day, primarily by smart phones that happened to find the trial network without any advertising.

While the primary customer target is mobile operators, Thompson said that companies have been approaching Towerstream to rent space for local advertising initiatives, since the operator can pinpoint where traffic is coming from on its access points. That was a surprise market for Towerstream, Thompson said.

He added that he's expecting more surprise customer segments to emerge; consequently, Towerstream is mulling whether it will bundle in-building Wi-Fi access with its WiMAX offerings. This access would be valuable to enterprises that have poor mobile coverage inside buildings.

There is little doubt that others will jump on the wholesale hotzone bandwagon, as hotzones could provide another tool for public-safety entities and municipalities that want to monitor high-traffic areas.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

Related Stories