May 5, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Free Wi-Fi in S.F. more than flipping a switch

(continued from previous page)

Ellen Kirk, vice president of marketing for Tropos, which makes the Wi-Fi gear being used to build the network, said that Wi-Fi is actually better suited for hilly terrain than cellular technology. Cellular towers are typically deployed high above the ground to maximize reach, which makes it difficult to engineer radio waves around buildings and hills. But Wi-Fi radios are deployed much closer to the ground. And they are typically grouped closer together, making it easier to move them and point them away from obstacles.

Berryman also said that because of San Francisco's topography, the company plans to put more radios closer together than it would in other deployments. In total, EarthLink will deploy 1,700 nodes on utility poles, averaging about 30 to 36 nodes per square mile.

By contrast, in Chaska, Minn., one of the first cities to deploy citywide Wi-Fi, the city initially deployed only 17 nodes per square mile. Eventually, it increased that to 24 nodes per square mile to improve performance and coverage.

"We won't put our name on a network that isn't reliable."
--Don Berryman, EarthLink executive vice president

Berryman acknowledges that the network will not be able to reach residents living above 30 feet or what is typically the third floor of a building. And like other cities with citywide Wi-Fi networks, some residents will need to get a wireless bridge that sits in their home to boost the signal indoors. EarthLink customers will get this device for free, but people using Google's free service will have to buy the customer premise equipment at a local electronics store for about $100 to $120.

"This is our business," Berryman said. "We have to make sure the network is reliable and provides reasonable speeds or it wouldn't be worth it for us to sell it as a service. We won't put our name on a network that isn't reliable."

EarthLink is banking on at least 15 percent of San Francisco's residents either buying service directly from EarthLink or using the network through another ISP or from Google within the first 18 months of service. EarthLink will get a portion of the advertising revenue generated through Google's advertising. It also plans to sell higher bandwidth service between 1.5Mbps to 3Mbps to businesses in San Francisco.

Some critics wonder if Google's ad-based model for providing free Internet access will really work. Traditional local advertising in the form of radio, billboards, and fliers, is worth billions of dollars annually. But for now, local digital advertising is only a small fraction of that. In fact, Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, estimates digital ads are only worth about $2 billion a year out of a total of $102 billion in 2006.

Google seems to think there is a lot of potential in local search. The company's CEO Eric Schmidt said during Google's first quarter earnings call that local advertising is an "increasingly meaningful contributor to revenue, and much more is coming."

Wi-Fi should also improve the accuracy of local advertising, which could make it even more valuable to advertisers.

"At the 30,000 foot level it looks very promising," Sterling said. "But no one can predict how quickly these revenues are going to come together or how much they will be. First it has to be installed, then consumers have to get on and then advertisers will come."

Google, which is also using local ads to fuel deployment of a network in its hometown, declined an interview to talk about its advertising strategy in San Francisco. But other companies with similar strategies in other cities say they have seen some early success.

Metrofi, which also bid on the San Francisco project, offers free municipal Wi-Fi in nearby Santa Clara, Calif., and recently won a bid to offer the same service in Portland, Ore. Chuck Haas, the company's CEO, said the Portland network will cost less than $5 million to build. With roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of residents regularly using the network, he said advertising revenues will pay for network construction and operating expenses within 24 months.

"If revenue didn't exceed the expense," he said, "I sure wouldn't be doing this."

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7 comments

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Build out will kill EarthLink
Earthlink is already underestimating the number of Mesh Nodes it will need to cover the City, especially the downtown area where usage will skyrocket. Tempe Az required 650 alone and it is smaller than SF and flat too.
The other problem they have will be the number of Gateway links (Motorola Canopy radios)they will need to keep the bandwidth (in the single radio Mesh Node) at a reasonable level to retain users. All I can say here is Motorola will love the business it will get from deploying a Canopy Gateway at every 3 Nodes. Same problem Earthlink will have in Philly.

Will be very interesting to watch this develop.

The industry analyst need to start commenting on this so the entire Metro Area Wireless market doesn't get a bad name because someone made a mistake in picking the best hardware.

Jacomo
Posted by jacomo (115 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed - this will cost 3X estimates - easily
Metricom built out San Francisco with reasonably speedy and
extremely useful wireless networks twice. Once in the 90s, and
again in 2000 with a high-speed 128kbps network. (Does no
one at News.com do any research when writing these articles, or
is comparing current efforts with previous failures not germane
somehow?)

What did Metricom learn? Even when using two or three
frequencies, radio densities were much higher than forecast -
and so was the cost. Reflection, multipath, and other
interference was higher than expected. And this happened to a
company that had already done the task once!

Metricom was able to build out seven metro areas with high
speed wireless for a little less than a billion dollars. Earthlink is
crazy if they think they can do the same thing with Canopy and
other "bolt on WAN" technologies for 6-8 million total.
Metricom's mesh network architecture was built from the start
for redundancy and survivability, enhancing frequency reuse,
while 802.11-based products can't fully escape their original
purpose - channel-based static access points. They're far more
inefficient than Metricom's old architecture, even with advances
in computing power and RF processing.

First you need to survey everything. Just getting municipal
clearance from all the agencies involved with lightpoles in S.F.
will be a nightmare in and of itself. Then you have to hire bucket
trucks to visit most blocks in San Francisco to hang radios. Then
you need to survey everything again. And then you can start
working out all the bugs, weak spots, dropout areas, and
addressing the vandalism and other maintenance issues. (Lots of
birds in S.F., and two things attenuate R.F. like nobody's
business. Bird bodies and bird...*hit.)

This all seems to point to a number far higher than the 6-8
million Earthlink is hoping for. I have to wonder who there is
doing the estimating.

Earthlink was interested in Metricom's technology, too, but bad
marketing and management doomed the company to failure
during the dot-com crash, and apparently Earthlink caught the
death smell on the company before investing.

It'll be interesting to see how successful this venture is - but I
think it'll end up costing all parties far more than forecast, it'll
be disappointing when finished, difficult to upgrade in the
future, and it won't help bring any poor people the magic of the
web, either - unless Gavin and his new pals find someone to
subsidize that little project, too.
Posted by Hep Cat (440 comments )
Link Flag
The Idea is there, the means however.....
I think its a great plan, I would love the accessibility in my city, as a matter of fact I am going to plan it out and present it at our next city counsel meeting. However in a city like SF there is definately a lot to consider. The cost of course is an issue, however if it does get to be a little much they can still decide to charge a small fee, 170,000 people paying $10 a month minimum can definately keep it running. Besides with a business city such a SF there is a definate need for all over access. There are still more issues that need to be focused on before this will even work. For instance, interference. My phone alone knocks out my wireless. Hackers, my god how much would they love access to all of SF. Either way, I think with more planning, acceptable hardware positioning and enough backing to pay for it, this idea can actually take off and expand nation wide. Besides, with rising gas prices I can barely afford to go war driving anymore.
Posted by Mechy20 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Breakfast at "Tiffany's"; coming home on the 'Red eye'.
Jet lag is only a raw egg and a shot of 'Jack Daniels' and I'm fresh for some talkback with 'The (DBA) Critics' Redmon review. #1 topic of interest from my hometown Jewish Deli; 81% of our businesses are run from the 'Home' in this community. Odd as it may sound, in a Republican state like mine their's a whole lot of money in the private sector. Translation: Everyone is vested in Keo's and 401k's. More over, I've paid for my personnal health insurance since 1998; even as a contributory expense. But, hey I was employed doing what I had done my entire life thow this time in the organic produce department at "Wild Oats ranch market". My history is shallow to most going from aquisition to stock split and back again. But, this municiple wi-fi has potential; with the IPO's at heart, like Cica-Cola, Layes Potatoe Chips and (maybe a cash account business such as Budweiser). They all need broadband at this very time of perqyerment.
Posted by Pop4 (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Story Says they Plan to Spend $15 Million ...
before all is said and done, but I think they meant that would be what was needed for a first phase of deployment and operation - the $6 - 8 million is probably just an alpha/beta initial capability in the areas of highest payoff - where people are mostly likely to want to use this capability beyond the existing capability provided by Starpukes, McDumbalds, etc. (and that would help keep the wee-wee contests with the corporate types to a dull(er) roar). I do agree that it will take far more than even the $15 million to be able to provide free access to every homeless guy's cardboard box around the city(just think about what kind of propagation/reflection headaches all those shopping carts full of aluminum cans are going to cause! :) )

However, remember that there is a paying option, and you can bet your sweet bippie that those customers will have a shiny (although, eventually, bird-poop covered ;) ) new access point within eyeshot of wherever they use their laptops. WiFi technology is much cheaper to field, even in the hundreds (thousands?) of nodes than cellular technology, especially if it's mesh-capable. Unlike cell phones, most current WiFi devices will not be used across nearly as much real estate (especially in mobile mode where the user is in control, e.g., walking, driving, etc.) - and anyone who does attempt that will soon be cleansed from the shallow end of the gene pool (but, why is it always _after_ they've reproduced?) by a cable car, trolley, bus, taxi, cyclist, mugger, etc. WiFi phones won't be a problem, as long as they are multi-mode and can take advantage of the existing cellular infrastructure (anyone know whether they default to WiFi when it's available? That will put additional strain on the network, if/when they start showing up in large numbers, but I hope for Earthlink's sake that it doesn't happen for a few years down the road/hill).

Other than proximity to Google's HQ, there is one very smart reason to start with San Francisco as an early nut to crack - if they can make this work there, it will be a relative breeze to make it work anywhere, even the glass and steel canyons of New York City. The continuing decline in the cost of the technology (and massive buying power) will also mean that cities they attempt this in elsewhere will be increasingly cheaper to do, from both hardware and labor costs (I'm guessing that propagation/usage models will be refined over time that will make each nth installment easier - but, still not necessarily easy).

It is curious that Cisco/Linksys has been silent about all of this commotion - maybe they're planning to buy/team with Yahoo/AOL/MSN to do the same thing in other places (or, maybe they're waiting for Google/Earthlink to prove/disprove the concept, and then do a me-too, or skip the mistake, in cities not already slated for this kind of capability. I wouldn't count out Microsloth leading its own team, either, with the obvious first deployment being Seattle (which may be third only to San Francisco and the sprawl of LA in geographic difficulty. Cities like Omaha are not going to be nearly as much of a challenge, now or in the future (and there won't be nearly as much money to make there, either, so don't expect a big rush of companies to show up in places like that to stake their claim anytime soon - they're going to probably have to spend some of their own tax revenue to attract any flies, if the prospective market isn't big enough).

Of course, as Dennis Miller liked to say at the ends of his rants, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Story Says they Plan to Spend $15 Million ...
before all is said and done, but I think they meant that would be what was needed for a first phase of deployment and operation - the $6 - 8 million is probably just an alpha/beta initial capability in the areas of highest payoff - where people are mostly likely to want to use this capability beyond the existing capability provided by Starpukes, McDumbalds, etc. (and that would help keep the wee-wee contests with the corporate types to a dull(er) roar). I do agree that it will take far more than even the $15 million to be able to provide free access to every homeless guy's cardboard box around the city(just think about what kind of propagation/reflection headaches all those shopping carts full of aluminum cans are going to cause! :) )

However, remember that there is a paying option, and you can bet your sweet bippie that those customers will have a shiny (although, eventually, bird-poop covered ;) ) new access point within eyeshot of wherever they use their laptops. WiFi technology is much cheaper to field, even in the hundreds (thousands?) of nodes than cellular technology, especially if it's mesh-capable. Unlike cell phones, most current WiFi devices will not be used across nearly as much real estate (especially in mobile mode where the user is in control, e.g., walking, driving, etc.) - and anyone who does attempt that will soon be cleansed from the shallow end of the gene pool (but, why is it always _after_ they've reproduced?) by a cable car, trolley, bus, taxi, cyclist, mugger, etc. WiFi phones won't be a problem, as long as they are multi-mode and can take advantage of the existing cellular infrastructure (anyone know whether they default to WiFi when it's available? That will put additional strain on the network, if/when they start showing up in large numbers, but I hope for Earthlink's sake that it doesn't happen for a few years down the road/hill).

Other than proximity to Google's HQ, there is one very smart reason to start with San Francisco as an early nut to crack - if they can make this work there, it will be a relative breeze to make it work anywhere, even the glass and steel canyons of New York City. The continuing decline in the cost of the technology (and massive buying power) will also mean that cities they attempt this in elsewhere will be increasingly cheaper to do, from both hardware and labor costs (I'm guessing that propagation/usage models will be refined over time that will make each nth installment easier - but, still not necessarily easy).

It is curious that Cisco/Linksys has been silent about all of this commotion - maybe they're planning to buy/team with Yahoo/AOL/MSN to do the same thing in other places (or, maybe they're waiting for Google/Earthlink to prove/disprove the concept, and then do a me-too, or skip the mistake, in cities not already slated for this kind of capability. I wouldn't count out Microsloth leading its own team, either, with the obvious first deployment being Seattle (which may be third only to San Francisco and the sprawl of LA in geographic difficulty. Cities like Omaha are not going to be nearly as much of a challenge, now or in the future (and there won't be nearly as much money to make there, either, so don't expect a big rush of companies to show up in places like that to stake their claim anytime soon - they're going to probably have to spend some of their own tax revenue to attract any flies, if the prospective market isn't big enough).

Of course, as Dennis Miller liked to say at the ends of his rants, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Story Says they Plan to Spend $15 Million ...
before all is said and done, but I think they meant that would be what was needed for a first phase of deployment and operation - the $6 - 8 million is probably just an alpha/beta initial capability in the areas of highest payoff - where people are mostly likely to want to use this capability beyond the existing capability provided by Starpukes, McDumbalds, etc. (and that would help keep the oui-oui contests with the corporate types to a dull(er) roar). I do agree that it will take far more than even the $15 million to be able to provide free access to every homeless guy's cardboard box around the city(just think about what kind of propagation/reflection headaches all those shopping carts full of aluminum cans are going to cause! :) )

However, remember that there is a paying option, and you can bet your sweet bippie that those customers will have a shiny (although, eventually, bird-p..p covered ;) ) new access point within eyeshot of wherever they use their laptops. WiFi technology is much cheaper to field, even in the hundreds (thousands?) of nodes than cellular technology, especially if it's mesh-capable. Unlike cell phones, most current WiFi devices will not be used across nearly as much real estate (especially in mobile mode where the user is in control, e.g., walking, driving, etc.) - and anyone who does attempt that will soon be cleansed from the shallow end of the gene pool (but, why is it always _after_ they've reproduced?) by a cable car, trolley, bus, taxi, cyclist, mugger, etc. WiFi phones won't be a problem, as long as they are multi-mode and can take advantage of the existing cellular infrastructure (anyone know whether they default to WiFi when it's available? That will put additional strain on the network, if/when they start showing up in large numbers, but I hope for Earthlink's sake that it doesn't happen for a few years down the road/hill).

Other than proximity to Google's HQ, there is one very smart reason to start with San Francisco as an early nut to crack - if they can make this work there, it will be a relative breeze to make it work anywhere, even the glass and steel canyons of New York City. The continuing decline in the cost of the technology (and massive buying power) will also mean that cities they attempt this in elsewhere will be increasingly cheaper to do, from both hardware and labor costs (I'm guessing that propagation/usage models will be refined over time that will make each nth installment easier - but, still not necessarily easy).

It is curious that Cisco/Linksys has been silent about all of this commotion - maybe they're planning to buy/team with Yahoo/AOL/MSN to do the same thing in other places (or, maybe they're waiting for Google/Earthlink to prove/disprove the concept, and then do a me-too, or skip the mistake, in cities not already slated for this kind of capability. I wouldn't count out Microsloth leading its own team, either, with the obvious first deployment being Seattle (which may be third only to San Francisco and the sprawl of LA in geographic difficulty. Cities like Omaha are not going to be nearly as much of a challenge, now or in the future (and there won't be nearly as much money to make there, either, so don't expect a big rush of companies to show up in places like that to stake their claim anytime soon - they're going to probably have to spend some of their own tax revenue to attract any flies, if the prospective market isn't big enough).

Of course, as Dennis Miller liked to say at the ends of his rants, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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