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Reiter on Project Rainbow

Alan Reiter has written a detailed analysis of the prospects of Project Rainbow (found via 802.11b Networking News):

A nationwide 802.11 network run efficiently, with thousands of hotspots, efficient billing and the right pricing certainly would be a great service. But this is easier said than done, and time and time again the wireless industry has tried to create nationwide or worldwide wireless data ventures and has gotten into serious trouble...

One huge part of the value chain: the hotspots! Project Rainbow participants still have to negotiate with the "landlords" to get hotspots into hotels, conference centers, airports, coffee shops, etc. Of course, it is possible to buy your way into coverage -- but only to a certain extent...

But even if Project Rainbow could purchase every public hotspot in the U.S., it still wouldn't be enough...

Project Rainbow could be good news. It could provide valuable 802.11 services across the country. It could be a big boon to travelers.

It could also take a long, long time to implement, and that implementation process could be stymied by hype.

A well-written, thoughful piece -- so much so that I've waived my usual evaluation period and am adding a link to Alan's site to my sidebar immediately. It's an excellent source of wireless news analysis.

As for Project Rainbow, I continue to be encouraged by the fact that it is being discussed. Alan rightly points out many issues that must be addressed before such a service could truly be useful. That doesn't mean, though, that solutions to those issues don't exist.

Some months back, I sat next to the employee of a major technology and system services corporation on a flight down to Orlando for CTIA. During our conversation, he claimed that his company was in discussions with both McDonald's and Subway to install a network of 802.11 access points in their stores nationwide. Whether true or not, it's an interesting idea.

According to their respective Websites, there were 13,099 McDonald's restaurants in the US as of the end of 2001, while Subway currently has 13,822 US restaurants. That's a total of 26,921 locations across the country. That would be a pretty good start. My hunch is that in many densely urban areas, the combination of the two might give near-blanket coverage. Coverage would obviously be less continuous in suburban and (especially) rural areas, but imagine driving down the highway, seeing the Golden Arches -- typically the highest sign at any given exit -- and thinking, "Food, folks, fun, and 11 megabits!"

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