Minneapolis Unwired: ZDNet article covers USIW response to bridge collapse

Marguerite Reardon at ZDNet has an Aug. 8 piece on the US Internet Wireless (USIW) response to the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis (just surfaced in my Google Alerts). It’s the standard blow-by-blow about USIW’s quick and strategic response to the crisis plus how public safety is a major reason for muni Wi-Fi.

Citywide Wi-Fi network put to test in Minneapolis

Part of the USIW response was the opening of the subscription-based Wi-Fi network to allow use by anyone. This was announced via local broadcast media. With the cellular network flooded, USIW hoped people with Wi-Fi enabled smart phones could use Wi-Fi for placing calls. Most articles then give usage statistics provided by Joe Caldwell, CEO of USIW: network use jumped from 1,000 registered users to 6,000 users. The inference is that lots of phone calls were placed over Wi-Fi (Voice over IP or VOIP).

Reardon is the only writer who took the figures to task:

Exactly how many of those 6,000 users were actually using the Wi-Fi network in lieu of the cell phone network isn’t known. It’s unlikely that many people were able to use the network for voice communications, given that most cell phones don’t have Wi-Fi capability and those that do may not be able use voice over IP clients.

Additionally, a large number of VOIP calls would have degraded services on the Wi-Fi network as surely as it did on the cellular network. I assume USIW could share usage data with us showing how many VOIP calls were placed and what other types of activities were going on.

Also interesting to note is that text and instant messages were still moving over the cell network. (Jon Gordon mentioned this to me via Twitter.) I see this as an education issue with cell phone users needing to know how to send text messages and that this is an alternative when you are unable to place a voice call. Most of my (older) friends—even those who have had cell phones a long time—don’t know how to text message or IM on their cell.

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