Silicon Valley’s huge wireless network stalling

The ambitious plan to blanket 1,500 square miles of California's Silicon Valley with a wireless network may be on the edge of stalling, still unable to raise funds for even two one-square-mile test sites, according to a recent column in the San Jose Mercury News.

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The ambitious plan to blanket 1,500 square miles of California's Silicon Valley with a wireless network may be on the edge of stalling, still unable to raise funds for even two one-square-mile test sites, according to a recent column in the San Jose Mercury News.

The two test sites would need $500,000 (£236,500) which so far the region, which covers most of the peninsula south of San Francisco and is one of the wealthiest regions in the United States, has been unwilling to cough up, according to Mercury News columnist Vindu Goel.

In one sense, Goel's interviews show little has changed since the glacial pace of the project was reported five months ago, except for one critical thing: the reasons for the delay.

The contract for the high-profile project, spawned by a non-profit called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network was awarded last year to Silicon Valley Metro Connect, a cooperative venture that has Cisco as equipment supplier, IBM as systems integrator, Azulstar Networks as the network owner and operator, and non-profit SeaKay to address digital-inclusion issues on behalf of the poor and other under-served groups.

The Silicon Valley network, estimated to cost about $200m, was planned as covering nearly all the peninsula; 40 communities with some 2.4m residents, using an array of different wireless technologies including Wi-Fi mesh, WiMax, a dedicated 4.9GHz public-safety network and wireless sensor networks.

Five months ago, the project's slow development pace was ascribed to its unprecedented scale and complexity. But during that time, the tidal wave of enthusiasm for metro-scale wireless networks, especially for internet access, may have crested in the United States. San Francisco's plan dissolved in suspicion and political in-fighting. Other projects were put on hold or cancelled because cities weren't satisfied with vendor assurances, or vendors weren't satisfied with municipal assurances.

Even Cisco, one of the Silicon Valley partners, took note, revamping part of its outdoor Wi-Fi mesh business to focus on wireless as an extension of a municipality's existing enterprise network, with applications that deliver measurable improvements for public-safety staff and mobile municipal workers.

In addition, EarthLink, an early advocate of and investor in large-scale municipal Wi-Fi networks, announced earlier this year it would not take on new projects pending a review of its business prospects in this market.

Cisco and Azulstar have not responded yet to e-mail requests for comment on this story.

Goel's column suggests that financial concerns now are foremost among the peninsula's cities and towns. Goel wrote that Azulstar CEO Tyler van Houwelingen had struck out with potential investors, including Valley venture capitalists. "Everybody has got the jitters," van Houwelingen says.

"Project backers also need to explain how the valley will benefit from a network that costs $125,000 to $150,000 per square mile to build," Goel writes.

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