Wi-Fi has the ability to control anything. We’ve seen Wi-Fi controlled helicopters, light switches, garage doors, and countless other things. Ideally, Wi-Fi could be used almost everywhere, but high costs and failed plans have stemmed the WiFi tide – for the moment.

Wi-Fi in Light Bulbs?

Wi-Fi in light bulbs seemed to the next big thing, judging by the funding the project got on Kickstarter.com. Phil Bosua came up with the product “LIFX: The Light Bulb Reinvented,” and asked the public to help fund the project.

LIFX is a light bulb that can be controlled with a smartphone app. Users can control brightness, bulb color, set timers, and even set the lighting based on the music playing.

Sounds cool, right? The rest of the world thought so to. After setting a $100,000 goal, LIFX was able to raise over $1 million for the project between September and November 2012.

Fast forward one year later, and LIFX is crawling its way into the market. They’ve sold out of two pre-orders, one in June 2013 and the other just last month. They are planning on releasing a limited retail supply in 2014. No large-scale release seems to be in sight.

LIFX, like so many technology projects, requires a lot of resources. In fact, it cost $69 to preorder a pair of LIFX light bulbs. It is price tags such as this that cause many of these ambitious projects to fail.

Wi-Fi in the Sky?

Probably the biggest project that has been talked about is connecting entire cities with Wi-Fi. However, costs of creating these huge networks can seem out of control. In 2005, Philadelphia looked to put into place a citywide Wi-Fi network. They found that it would cost $10 million just to install the network, and another $5 million to run the network for two years.

The issue was widespread. Between 2005 and 2007, many cities received proposals to install citywide Wi-Fi. These proposals often promised no cost to the cities.

Looking back on that now, it is easy to see why it failed. Millions of dollars of equipment was needed, and many times was even installed. However, the costs of running these networks weren’t sufficiently accounted for, forcing the projects to shut down.

By 2008, companies such as AT&T and EarthLink, decided to shut down all of their planned networks. And the Wi-Fi craze came to an abrupt halt.

Where is Wi-Fi Now?

With the developments of high-speed mobile service, such as 3G and 4G LTE, there has been less of a push to redevelop citywide Wi-Fi. Also, in almost every city, shops will provide free Wi-Fi to customers who are inside or near their building. Cable companies are also building small wireless networks that offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

With these options available, it has become harder to convince cities to take on the cost of citywide Wi-Fi. Minneapolis decided to take a chance, but the city had to sign a 10-year contract for $12.5 million in order to get the network up and running.

The advances in technology should make the costs of attempting citywide Wi-Fi less expensive than in the past. That’s what the city of Los Angeles is hoping.

This past August, Los Angeles began seriously considering creating a citywide Wi-Fi network. Los Angeles Councilman Bob Blumenfield believes creating such a network is necessary for success in today’s digital world. In 2007, it was estimated that creating a network to cover the entire city would cost $62 million.

Cisco hopes that their technology will encourage more cities to invest in citywide Wi-Fi. They believe wireless mesh networks can help drive costs down, while still providing strong wireless access. Cisco also believes service providers can expand their business into citywide wireless networks, and take advantage of the unfulfilled market.

However, until a major city successfully develops a low cost network, it will be hard for others to take a chance on a project that failed miserable just five years ago.

Will Los Angeles restart the craze?

Photo: Phil BousaKickstarter