Municipal wireless networks go far beyond the existing piggybacking opportunities available near public libraries and some coffee shops. The basic premise of carpeting an area with wireless service in urban centers is that it is more economical to the community to provide the service as a utility rather than to have individual households and businesses pay private firms for such a service. Such networks are capable of enhancing city management and public safety, especially when used directly by city employees in the field. They can also be a social service to those who cannot afford private high-speed services. When the network service is free and a small number of clients consume a majority of the available capacity, operating and regulating the network might prove difficult.
In 2003, Verge Wireless formed an agreement with Tropos Networks to build a municipal wireless networks in the downtown area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Carlo MacDonald, the founder of Verge Wireless, suggested that it could provide cities a way to improve economic development and developers to build mobile applications that can make use of faster bandwidth. Verge Wireless built networks for Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and other areas. Some applications include wireless security cameras, police mug shot software, and location-based advertising.
In 2007, some companies with existing cell sites offered high-speed wireless services where the laptop owner purchased a PC card or adapter based on EV-DO cellular data receivers or WiMAX rather than 802.11b/g. A few high-end laptops at that time featured built-in support for these newer protocols. WiMAX is designed to implement a metropolitan area network (MAN) while 802.11 is designed to implement a wireless local area network (LAN). However, the use of cellular networks is expensive for the consumers, as they are often on limited data plans.
In the 2010s larger cities embraced the smart city concept to tackle problems such as traffic congestion, crime, encouraging economic growth, responding to the effects of climate change and improving the delivery of city services. However, by 2018 it has become clear that the private sector could not be relied upon to build up city-wide wireless networks to meet the smart city objectives of municipal governments and public utility providers.
The construction of municipal wireless networks is a significant part of their lifetime costs. Usually, a private firm works with local government to construct a network and operate it. Financing is usually shared by both the private firm and the municipal government. Once operational, the service may be free to users via public finance or advertising, or may be a paid service. Among deployed networks, usage as measured by number of distinct users has been shown to be moderate to light. Private firms serving multiple cities sometimes maintain an account for each user, and allow the user a limited amount of mobile service in the cities covered. As of 2007 some Muni WiFi deployments are delayed as the private and public partners negotiate the business model and financing.
Corporate city-wide wireless networks
Google WiFi is entirely funded by Google. Despite a failed attempt to provide citywide WiFi through a partnership with internet service provider Earthlink in 2007, the company claims that they are working to provide a wireless network for the city of San Francisco, California, although there is no specified completion date. Some other projects that are still in the planning stages have pared back their planned coverage from 100% of a municipal area to only densely commercially zoned areas. One of the most ambitious planned projects is to provide wireless service throughout Silicon Valley, but the winner of the bid seems ready to request that the 40 cities involved help cover more of the cost, which has raised concerns that the project will ultimately be too slow to market to be a success. Advances in technology in 2005–2007 may allow wireless community network projects to offer a viable alternative. Such projects have an advantage in that, as they do not have to negotiate with government entities, they have no contractual obligations for coverage. A promising example is Meraki's demonstration in San Francisco, which already claims 20,000 distinct users as of October 2007.
In 2009, Microsoft and Yahoo also provided free wireless to select regions in the United States. Yahoo's free WiFi was made available for one year to the Times Square area in New York City beginning November 10, 2009. Microsoft made free WiFi available to select airports and hotels across the United States, in exchange for one search on the Bing search engine by the user.
The City of Adelaide in South Australia in collaboration with the South Australian Government operate a meshed network "Adelaide Free WIFI. For the past five years the network attracts some 8,000 daily users as the networks popularity continues to grow despite the proliferation of 4G technology.
The former New York state politician and lobbyist Thomas M. Reynolds argues that unintended externalities are possible as a result of local governments providing Internet service to their constituents. A private service provider could choose to offer limited or no service to a region if that region's largest city opted to provide free Internet service, thus eliminating the potential customer base. The private sector receives no money from taxpayers, so there isn't competition. The lack of competition prevents other municipalities in that region from benefiting from the services of the private provider. The smaller public municipalities would at the same time not benefit from the free service provided by the larger city because it is designed to be subsidized by taxpayers and not concerned about the maximization of profits. The broadband provided by the government isn't largely supported to create an income on top of the private sector not being competed with enough to make a profit. Thus, making both municipal wireless networks anticompetitive.
Cities with municipal wireless service
In many cases several points or areas are covered, without blanket area coverage.
Hong Kong - most are subscribed, paid services, but free service in selected governmental facilities is also available
Shanghai - city network in tourist areas, governmental facilities, and the districts of Jiading, Minhang, Pudong, Songjiang, Baoshan, and Puxi are covered. Public WiFi in various shopping malls, restaurants, stores, along with Pudong Airport, Hongqiao Airport, and all railway stations.
Beijing - Citywide network covers most districts, including downtown, along with public WiFi by stores, shopping malls, and restaurants, along with Government Facilities, transportation centers, and Beijing Capital International Airport.
Luxembourg — paid & free service in downtown, Central Station Hotcity and European district.
Chişinău - two metropolitan Wi-Fi networks exist: StarNet and Orange. StarNet's paid and free coverage area includes the city's central streets and residential districts as well as parks. Orange paid coverage area includes the city's mass transit areas and bus stops.
Almere - free municipal Wi-Fi covering Downtown Almere 
Hilversum - free municipal Wi-Fi covering Downtown Hilversum  and the shopping area around de Gijsbrecht van Amstelstraat in the southern part of town
Leiden - free, community project covering city and region by Wireless Leiden
Iqaluit, Nunavut - Community Free Access and Paid Service provided by Meshnet, and service of mnemonics.ca
London, Ontario - free (pilot project) on Dundas Street, provided by London Downtown Business Association
Mississauga, Ontario - free, Wireless access at Mississauga Libraries, Community Centres, Arenas and select transit stops
Moncton, New Brunswick - free, Service provided by Red Ball Internet of Moncton. Wireless access available at Arenas and Moncton's Public Library. It was also the first city in Canada to provide wireless internet on its public transportation fleet.
Kenosha, Wisconsin - Expensive Lake coverage pre-approved by Kenosha County Board without pre-approval by the City of Kenosha was declined by the City 2/13/2014. The ISP service the County was attempting would undermine the existing small business owner, who has found it a challenge for the city to accept any attempts to grow the WiFi.
Lexington, Kentucky - SSID: "LexingtonPublic" free, originally only for police, firefighters and civil service employees, available along major streets miles outside downtown, available in downtown, East End and Cardinal Hill neighborhoods
Linden, Michigan - free or paid service in downtown area and public parks, through Tri-County Wireless, Inc.
Guadalajara, Jalisco - Free, 150 parks and municipal areas. 1 hour continuous connect and 2 hour connection time allowed per day. In operation since 2011. Installation and operation is municipal government funded. A few of the areas are provided with free electrical outlets to charge / use your device.
Mérida, Yucatán - Free. Most major city parks and other areas. Provided by Axtel and Telmex. Usually also provide standing tables with power outlets. The parks are identified by "parque en linea" (online park) signs and branding of the utility providing the connectivity. The SSID is usually "park en linea".
Margaret River, Western Australia, This free public WIFI is provided by Margaret River Rotary Club and covers the main street all the way up to Reuther Park at the corner of Bussell Hwy & Wallcliffe Rd, Margaret River WA 6285.
Melbourne, Australia - VICFREE WiFi is available outdoors in the Melbourne CBD it includes:
Bourke St Mall
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
on platforms at CBD train stations
It's also available in central Ballarat and central Bendigo.
NOTE Telstra also have Telstra air fon hotspots available to Telstra and fon customers Australia wide
Northpine, South Africa Paid. WISP and media delivery services as well as video surveillance focused on the suburb. Community social portal for information sharing, collaboration and local business partnerships. Proof of concept to be expanded to neighbouring areas.
Harare, Zimbabwe Available around the city on various hotspots. Provided by ZOL. 1 hour time limit, paid after.
Delhi, India - Delhi Government constituted a Task Force (March 2015) to provide Free Wi-Fi connectivity in Delhi. The new Task Force is a part of Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC), an advisory body of the Aam Aadmi Party government, Aam Aadmi Party government decide to consult with various stakeholders to implement its pre-poll promise of providing Free Wi-Fi connectivity across the city, Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asks people for suggestions for Free WiFi plan (March 2015)
Dhaka, Bangladesh Free WiFi is now available in Dhaka Airport Road, Dhanmondi Lake Park, Selected BRTC Buses, Kamlapur Railway Station, Airport Railstation and Dhanmondi Residential Area. The Free WiFi Networks are provided by telecom operators, notably Robi and Aamra. The service is to be rolled out in full Northern Dhaka within December 2018