Earthlink, Google Team On SF WiFi Net


EarthLink and Google have teamed up and submitted a joint proposal to the City of San Francisco to build a citywide wireless municipal network. As part of the plant, the two companies propose a two-tier business model – a combination of free and pay service. As part of the proposal, Google will push a slower, but free network with connection speeds of 256 kbps up to 384 kbps. Earthlink on the other hand will offer a paid, citywide higher-speed service at 1 mbps, both upstream and down.

The two companies will share the cost of construction and operational expenses. To clarify, this is just a proposal, and not a done deal. The City has asked for proposals back in November 2005. The San Francisco Wireless project has been a politically tough effort, and I wonder how long it will take before the city does get unwired.

San Jose Mercury News reports: “Other proposals were submitted by MetroFi, Communication Bridge Global, NextWLAN, Razortooth Communications and SF Metro Connect, which is an alliance of SeaKay, Cisco Systems and IBM.”


David Fierberg

SF Metro Connect, one of the six respondents to the SF RFP and made up of SeaKay, Cisco Systems and IBM, is proposing a free and open network that will be designed, deployed and maintained as a public benefit network.

Our proposed network will not capture private information and market it or use it in any way. The network will be built on a technologically agnostic platform enabling businesses to sell premium services to unlimited people without interference by proprietary interests.

The network will also be the most sustainable into the future – a technology refresh clause and multiple income streams will keep the network relevant and robust in years to come.

Finally, SF Metro Connect is committed to creating a digital inclusion fund at the San Francisco Foundation and devoting considerable resources to the digital inclusion goals laid out by Mayor Newsom.

Check out our site at: for more information.

Bruce Hubbert

Chris: It sounds honorable and good but, well I live here in SF and nobody asked me nor did they put up a votable resolution, They are just doing it. This was proposed years ago for a fraction of the cost it would take to implement now by the BAWUG folks but was dropped. Why?

I still have to pay for Water, Trash, Phone, Streets, Schools etc. Why should I get free wifi? I would rather get free trash pickup, or lower local taxes. (We liberals love taxes ;-)

If Gavin has so much buy-in, or Mountain view as well, then why are so many of the companies in these areas scared to death that thier investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars might have just been for nought. I have personally spoken to several IT people in Mountain View that really do not want Google’s WIFi to tempt thier users to connect to it instead of the encypted and authenticated network that is provided for them.

I also have spoken to folks in Philly who cannot use thier internal WLAN because the free city WLAN is MUCH LOUDER than thier own (Caps are intended). So now what do they do? The tropos APs that are being considered are 4 Watt transmitters. thats 40x more powerful that a default configured Cisco unit (which comes at 100mw). Additionally, there are only 3 non overlapping channels, so chances are 100% that this network will stomp all over the internal WLANs of Wells Fargo, PG&E, Charles Schwab and whoever else has offices downtown.

Besides, in SF we have around 100 APs per block. We have been unwired for years. Heck, every coffee shop in towm, of which there are legion, has free wifi. So why do we need all this other wifi drowning everything else out?


Most important, it circumvents the established incumbent carriers. This is Google and Earthlink, not Verizon or SBC.


Thanks. So maybe wifi is cheaper and adequate.

I keep thinking WAN in terms of cellular coverage. Like Wimax, or even HSDPA. With IMS 2 years out, I suppose anything is possible.

Wifi works for now.

Jesse Kopelman

Is WiMax more economical than mesh-WiFi — it depends. If you want faster speeds over a large area (interference is a bigger concern the larger your cell size gets) with WiMax you need licensed frequencies — that costs money. It will also be a couple years before most people have built-in WiMax — until then, modems cost money. Even if you need 60 WiFi APs for the coverage of 1 WiMax base-station, the WiMax base-station costs 60 times more . . . you only save money on rent for your antenna locations and this is a non-issue if the city is already your partner. The only place you save any money with WiMax is on maintenance (60 times fewer base-stations to maintain) — is that enough to outweigh all the ways in which it is more expensive? Sure, in two years the economics will be different, but who wants to wait?

chris holland

Rick: good point, I believe in the tests we ran, we were downloading some trailers from at over 100KB/second, which is about the max you’ll get from a T1 line, which is also the max you’ll get from a basic 1.5Mbps DSL line, so i guess this specific test can’t demonstrate that we get speeds that “dwarf wireline DSL”.

But that’s why we were planning on switching the backhaul to Fiber, and buy DS3 circuits.

When transferring files within our Intranet, we can easily achieve 600KB/sec.

The key in our specific case is that our wifi system is free. The lucky residents who get to use it are happy with it, and the T1 line is what we’ll stick with for now. if the private sector came to us (we’re a small market of only about 10,000 homes), we might be able to switch to a fiber backhaul, and sell a faster service for some monthly fee.

chris holland

Bruce: In Hermosa Beach, our Municipal WiFi, deployed on 30% of our 2-square-mile territory coexists just fine with a huge concentration of many and i do mean many wifi hotspots owned and operated by private businesses, as well as residents, be they closed/priave/encrypted, or wide-opened.

I doubt the city of San Francisco would have even initiated this effort if it didn’t, actually, have the overwhelming support of the vast majority of its constituency. I’m pretty sure S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom would like to get reelected, no?


Chris, how do you get a faster connection than DSL or Cable when you’re maximum is the backhaul speed.

I know mesh optimizes the network, but I’m curious how you can beat a landline for video, downloads, etc.

Bruce Hubbert

What about the businesses that are in and around SF that already have WiFi? Is this new network going to stomp all over the existing networks? Causing co-channel and adjacent channel interference? Are employees of these networks going to connect to the free network while still connected to the wired ethernet cable of thier company’s network. Possibly opening up a security hole?

Many companies have invested a great deal of time and money into putting up wireless networks in thier offices. This new network may cause a whole host of problems for them. Did Google consult with any of the existing businesses in downtown SF and/or Mountain View as well? Should citizens and businesses have a say in how thier “airspace” is used?

chris holland

not to mention, if i understand correctly, the private sector is footing the bill. the municipality is just keeping things organized and looking after the constituents’ interests, and looking for competitive frameworks before granting right of way.

chris holland

uh wifi technology doesn’t prevent you from going far beyond 1mbps. That’s just the bandwidth they’ll be offering to paying subs, for cheaper, entry-level broadband.

In the end it comes down to how much bandwidth goes through your internet backhaul, THAT’s more likely to be the bottleneck, rather than whichever “wireless technology du jour”.

here in hermosa beach, the 30% lucky few who have had access to our free wifi network enjoy speeds that blow the living crap out of any DSL and Cable package. The WiFi network is wicked fast. But our internet bachaul is a T1 line. if 100% of all residents would use the network, we’d want to do the switch to a fiber optic connection to the Internet wand buy multiple DS3 circuits as needed, which was Keegan’s plan.

the point is, it comes down to your pipe to the Internet.

WiFi, as a technology, is sound, it works, it’s been proven in the field. why wait? to give telcos more chances to cement their monopoly on broadband?



I admire the efforts, but like Slav, I would think a Wimax network would be much more efficient and better. 256k (and 1M to some extent) is outdated. Can’t a Verizon data service get that kind of speed?

Wait for mobile Wimax in a year or two and double the speed with half the hassle. I can’t figure this one out.


I still feel the Wimax could prove to be the more lucrative (commerically) and less capital intensive (municipality wise) down the road simply due to less infrastructure in places which don’t have it.


This may be one of the few “first movers” along with Minneapolis, Chicago, Boulder? and some others I have forgotten to really push forward in the municipal wifi. I still feel the Wimax could prove to be the more lucrative (commerically) and less capital intensive (municipality wise) down the road simply due to less infrastructure in places which don’t have it. SF I will go out on a limb and say does have the infrastructure.

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