WiFi Goes Nation-Wide

by Marc Hedlund

Related link: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/16/technology/16WIRE.html

The New York Times is reporting today that Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless, and other large companies are in talks about providing a nation-wide 802.11 service. Has anything like this ever happened before?

These are not companies that would normally partner on such an aggressive project. What is their motivation? I assume the cost of the network would not necessarily be covered solely by subscription fees -- otherwise why involve the hardware makers? Presumably a large part of the motivation is to create a huge market for hardware that would use the network. (The article mentions, for instance, Intel's efforts to put WiFi on all its portable chips.)

On the one hand, it's great to see that this accidental revolution is going so far, so fast, when the planned revolution of Bluetooth has stumbled so dramatically. On the other hand, it's sad that the word "Apple" doesn't appear in the article -- once again it doesn't pay to innovate. (Memo to Steve: keep the iPod Mac-only -- Intel doesn't need any more gifts.)

The implications of a nationwide wireless network are pretty incredible. So many of the "That would be a great idea if only..." conversations will have a different ending. The warchalkers will have to get very busy. Yet I have to wonder what service provision will be like if it is run by some hardware vendors and a mishmash of cell phone networks. Intel only recently shut down their Web hosting service offering, which was undistinguished in its market -- and that business is a fair sight easier to manage than the end-user ISP market. Sure, service provider companies are involved, but which one is driving?

Here's an alternate present to consider: what if AOL had done this instead of buying Time Warner with their inflated value? Was content really that synergetic, or would throwing another log on the fire of their real business model have created a better opportunity?

Nah, that's crazy.