LinkNYC was announced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 and will eventually replace the city's network of payphones.
LinkNYC was announced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 and will eventually replace the city's network of payphones.

A municipal wireless network is a citywide wireless network. This usually works by providing municipal broadband via Wi-Fi to large parts or all of a municipal area by deploying a wireless mesh network. The typical deployment design uses hundreds of wireless access points deployed outdoors, often on poles. The operator of the network acts as a wireless internet service provider.


A municipal Wi-Fi antenna in Minneapolis, Minnesota
A municipal Wi-Fi antenna in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Wireless security cameras on a lamp post deployed by New York City Police Department. They are connected to the municipal NYC Wireless Network (NYCWiN).
Wireless security cameras on a lamp post deployed by New York City Police Department. They are connected to the municipal NYC Wireless Network (NYCWiN).

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.[1]

In 2003, Verge Wireless formed an agreement with Tropos Networks to build a municipal wireless networks in the downtown area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[2] 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,[3] 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).[citation needed] However, the use of cellular networks is expensive for the consumers, as they are often on limited data plans.[4]

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.[4]


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.[citation needed]

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,[5] 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.[6] 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.[citation needed]

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.[7][8] 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.[9]

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.

Criticism and externalities

A volunteer installing a "supernode" of In July 2018 had over 35,000 active nodes and about 63,000 km of wireless links.[10]
A volunteer installing a "supernode" of In July 2018 had over 35,000 active nodes and about 63,000 km of wireless links.[10]

Municipal wireless networks face opposition from telecommunications providers, particularly in the United States, South Africa, India and the European Union. In the 2000s telecommunications providers argued that it is neither economical nor legal for municipal governments to own or operate such businesses. The dominant type of wireless networks are the private wireless local area networks (WLANs), for which individuals or businesses pay a subscription to a local carrier.[11] In 2006 the US Federal Trade Commission expressed concerns about such private-public partnerships as trending towards a franchise monopoly.[12] Within the United States, providing a municipal wireless network was not recognized as a priority. Some have argued that the benefits of public approach may exceed the costs, similar to cable television.[citation needed]

In the early 2010s concerns were articulated that a considerable percentage of the world population did not have access to affordable Internet access. Despite the growing digitalization of business and government services, 37 percent of the European and 22 percent of the north American population did not have affordable access to the Internet in 2009.[13] Because local governments and municipalities in rural economiess either could not fund wireless networks or did not consider it a priority, numerous communities across the world have built and funded autonomous community wireless networks (CWNs), taking advantage of the free 2.4 GHz spectrum and open source software.[11]

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.[14] 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.[14]

Cities with municipal wireless service

In many cases several points or areas are covered, without blanket area coverage.


East Asia


Free public WiFi in tourist areas of big cities, railway stations, airports, and governmental facilities in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Harbin, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Kunming, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Ningbo, Foshan, Dalian, Changchun, Qingdao, Yantai, Dongguan, Macau, Huangshan, Hefei, Guiyang, and Guangzhou

Nearly all cities have free WiFi coverage, hosted either by their local service carrier, or city government, all railway stations in China have free WiFi, along with all Airports.


South Asia




Southeast Asia

















Wi-Fi sign in downtown Munich
Wi-Fi sign in downtown Munich


















United Kingdom

North America


United States

In addition, a few U.S. states, such as Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts, offer free Wi-Fi service at welcome centers and roadside rest areas located along major Interstate highways.



Bourke St Mall Queen Victoria Market Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre Melbourne Museum on platforms at CBD train stations It's also available in central Ballarat and central Bendigo.

South America



South Asia

Southeast Asia

West Asia


North America

United States


South America

Canceled or closed

See also


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