In 2005, according to a report published by ABI Research, municipal Wi-Fi networks covered only about 1,500 square miles worldwide (3885 square kilometers). Yet by 2010, that figure is expected to increase to 126,000 square miles (over 325,000 square km), an area slightly larger than Poland, or the US state of New Mexico. The bulk of these deployments will take place in North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
To serve those networks, more than one million wireless mesh routers will be shipped in 2010. The manufacturing revenues from those shipments will exceed US$ 1.2 billion.
According to the report, four significant trends are energizing this emerging market.
Many local governments clearly wish to deploy municipal broadband networks, for public safety as well as increased government efficiency.
Alternative ISPs see mesh networking as enabling their own broadband service facilities to compete with incumbent service providers.
Wireless mesh networking technology is seen as an efficient and cost-effective means of providing broadband access to underserved areas. This is particularly noticeable as the municipal Wi-Fi trend moves from great metropolises into smaller cities and towns.
Potentially, wireless mesh networking technology can serve as a competitive tool for cable operators.
While municipalities initially faced some regulatory restriction in terms of local government funding or their roles as broadband service network operators, that is less the case today, because the model is increasingly of a third-party operator owning and deploying the network.
That's not to say that mesh networking is perfect for all municipal broadband network applications. Sam Lucero, the firm's Senior Analyst, Wireless Connectivity Research, observes, "The majority of municipal Wi-Fi deployments in the recent past have been based on mesh technology. But that could change, depending on how markets receive WiMAX and similar cellular point-to-point technologies when they become available. That is something we're keeping a close eye on."
"Incumbent service providers are not likely to adopt wireless mesh networking technology for their primary networks," he cautions, "because it does not provide adequate bandwidth for bundled video, voice, and broadband data. Also, they have already invested significant funds and effort in deploying their current networks."