Finding an Effective Sustainable Model for a Wireless Metropolitan-Area Network: Analyzing the Case of Pittsburgh
30 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2012
Date Written: August 15, 2007
Many cities are seeking ways to facilitate the deployment of a wireless metropolitan-area network (WiMAN) based on wifi technology. City leaders must often balance competing goals, including the desire to maximize the area in which wireless services will be available, to maximize competition among providers, to minimize subsidies from government agencies and non-profit organizations, and to ensure financial sustainability. This paper investigates the extent to which these goals can be met with four basic models: one citywide monopoly WiMAN provider, facilities-based competition from multiple citywide WiMAN providers, one citywide WiMAN offering wholesale services to competing retail service providers, and open competition where multiple providers are free to serve only the more profitable neighborhoods. We estimate costs for constructing and operating a WiMAN in Pittsburgh using a sample architecture. We develop a regression model to roughly predict subscription rates and revenues based on city demographics, and apply that model to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. Using these rough estimates, we analyze the extent to which competition can be sustained and service can be provided citywide under different models, and with different forms of intervention. The interventions analyzed include providing one-time or annual subsidies (from government or non-profit foundations), guaranteeing that the city government will be a large customer, advertising wireless services, and facilitating access to locations that are suitable for antenna placement. For Pittsburgh, we conclude that citywide facilities-based competition is not financially sustainable. Citywide monopoly operation and citywide competition at the retail level are almost equally viable financially, and both appear sustainable, but financial failure is within our margin of error. Moreover, we show that retail competition can only survive if the City has leverage to prevent the monopoly wholesaler from raising prices to the level that maximizes the wholesaler’s profit, as this will end competition. Finally, the City or a powerful third party must provide some form of inducement such as becoming an anchor customer to motivate providers to serve all parts of the city. Otherwise, providers will maximize profit by focusing on high-income neighborhoods, leaving much of the city unserved.
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