Google Offers to Unwire San Francisco

By Eric Griffith

October 01, 2005

Google has responded to the City by the Bay's request for information on building a citywide Wi-Fi network... and says it would do it for free.

The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and others report that Google is making an official play to build out the citywide Wi-Fi network for San Francisco desired by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office.

The network would be built by WFI using third-party hardware (no word on if it would be mesh, but that’s likely), and service would be absolutely free to city dwellers and visitors to the tune of 300 Kilobits per second (Kbps) wherever the signal is available, even though they'll likely start with an 802.11g-based network.

Google claims it would build out the network with no charge to residents or the city at all. It's likely to be an advertising-driven network, following the success the company has had with its AdSense program for placing Web-based, contextual text ads.

Google would also provide authentication services. This was hinted at earlier this week with the not-so-stealthy release of Google Secure Access, a free VPN client designed for use at Wi-Fi hotspots.

Google already sponsors free Wi-Fi in San Francisco with partner Feeva in Union Square, as well as in nearby Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered. This week, it was noticed by the blogosphere that Google is also sponsoring free Wi-Fi in New York City’s Bryant Park. The Journal article states that Google does not plan to offer free Wi-Fi outside of San Francisco, however.

GoogleNet -- which is not an official name -- was first in hinted at in  a report by Om Malik of Business 2.0 magazine in August, saying that the company may be buying up unused or "dark" fiber-optic networks in hopes of launching a nationwide service, likely using Wi-Fi for last-mile customer connections.

The San Francisco request for information deadline was today. Other companies that submitted include EarthLink. That company questioned Google’s ability to build the network for free in the Chronicle story, saying that free means no upgrades to the service in the future.

San Francisco already has 436 free hotspots in the city listed with hotspot directory JiWire.com.



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