I started Muniwireless.com in June 2003 as a blog. The purpose was to aggregate information about city Wi-Fi projects (mostly hotzones) around the world. Four years later, Muniwireless has turned into a vertically integrated media company with a quarterly magazine, web seminars, conferences in the US, Europe and Asia. How did this happen?
In 2003, my friend Scott Rafer was living in Amsterdam and running Wifinder, the hotspot directory. Scott believed that cities would one day become carriers of telecommunications (especially wireless) and after many conversations with him, I became convinced that this would happen. At that time, many cities were setting up Wi-Fi hotzones, but with no other purpose than to provide Internet access in downtown areas. Wireless community groups such as New York City Wireless (NYC Wireless) and Wireless Leiden were doing the same but they did not necessarily work together with the municipality.
Why was I so keen on seeing cities set up wireless networks? Because I believed and still feel strongly that there should be an alternative to the incumbent telecom operators, wireline and fixed, who have for so long dominated and squeeze the innovation and fun out of communications. These are companies – behemoths with gigantic bureaucratic structures – who have benefited from their traditional monopolies over the copper wires and licensed spectrum – and used it in the political sphere to procure even more unfair advantages.
With unlicensed spectrum and wireless technology that allows people to hook up to the Internet everywhere at higher speeds than cellular networks, offering mobility that DSL and cable (and even fiber) cannot, we can have truly open neutral networks not controlled by an incumbent carrier.
The need to have information in one place
In June 2003, I spoke at a conference in Amsterdam about city hotzones. While preparing for my presentation, I discovered how difficult it was to find information about which cities had set up hotzones and what they were doing with them. I realized that if cities were going to deploy these large Wi-Fi networks outdoors and later become providers of citywide Wi-Fi service, they needed a website to visit to find information about what other cities were doing, what business models they were adopting and with whom they were partnering.
That’s when I decided to start Muniwireless.com. The name “muniwireless” stumbled out of my dreams. I woke up one morning and rushed upstairs to the computer in my home office to see if the domain name had been taken and sure enough, it had not, so I registered it.
The early days
I started simply by citing to articles in other publications about Wi-Fi hotzones. For example, if the Los Angeles Times posted an article online about the Long Beach hotzone, I would write a short post with a link to the original LA Times article.
After six months of simply aggregating information from other sources, I discovered three things:
(1) the number of visitors to Munwireless.com began to rise dramatically;
(2) Muniwireless.com began to show up on the first page of Google searches for topics related to Wi-Fi hotzones, citywide wireless, etc.; and
(3) people who had news about their city’s Wi-Fi plans — municipal officials as well as private providers — began to come to me first, not to the mainstream news organizations.
Lesson 1: When you aggregate news about a specific topic, you rise high on search engines.