Last month I talked about the long, thankless efforts at innovation that predate a technological “revolution” (see earlier Politics of Technology). In the evolution of WiFi technology at the city-scale, we maybe seeing the shift in the adoption curve (from the long nascent tail to an explosive adoption rate). In part II, the incumbents shift from fighting the new technology to embracing (or at least exploring) it.
The WSJ today reports on the recent change of mind by the CableCos and Telcos, from suing municipal wireless efforts to competing with them: WiFi landgrab. This may be because they failed in 13 of 14 efforts to legislate away free municipal wireless last year. Or because it’s become apparent that, while they’re busy lobbying, others like Google, Earthlink, and many local others are out there building networks:
More than 50 municipalities around the country have already built such systems, and a similar number are at some stage in the process, including Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston, according to Esme Vos, founder of the Web site www.muniwireless.com, which tracks such projects nationally. By 2010, ABI Research forecasts a $1.2 billion market for the wireless technology used in the city systems.
In 10 or 20 years, this shift and its causes will be lost to some economic arguments about the inevitable forward progress of technological change, but it was critical nonetheless in shaping the paths taken (and not). Will Muni WiFi be the disruptive technology that undermines the grip of Cable and Telcos, or will it simply enhance their position? The answer, it seems, has less to do with the technology than with how (and why) those incumbents chose to react.