More on wireless broadband — a downbeat assessment, this time
Wi-Fi Nation is on indefinite hold, at least until computer-carrying consumers can roam beyond the invisible tether of the base station at the office, or the AirPort in the family den. With tens of millions of customers ready to be wireless by next year, and the price of a Wi-Fi laptop dropping below $1,000, why isn’t AT&T setting up antennae for us, instead of shutting down its Digital Broadband service?
The answer is less about technology than the shifting flows of capital in the 21st century. The wireless Internet won’t be rolled out telecom-style, like DSL or cable modems. In the wake of embarrassing failures to create top-down networks, it will be built from the ground up, by a patchwork quilt of players. Imagine the gradual knitting together of cellular roaming service in the ’90s, but with 10,000 antenna owners rather than 10 giant carriers. Rather than risking billions of investors’ dollars on a ubiquitous rollout, entrepreneurs will play for smaller stakes in more proven local or niche markets: When we come, they will build it.