Blog Post

5 Years For Nation Wide WiFi

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

In five years, most major metros and suburbs will have ubiquitous Wi-Fi based broadband coverage says Chuck Haas, the co-founder and chief executive officer of MetroFi, a Mountain View, Calif.,-based start-up that is rolling out metro wireless networks. He thinks most metros and suburban areas in the US will be WiFi hot-zones, by end of the decade.

Chuck, made this remarks during a panel discussion today at The Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down on Local (Search) conference down in San Jose earlier today. The panel pondered the big question – Is The Broadband Juggernaut: Slowing Down or Speeding Up? Hass, was on this panel alongside Brian Jurutka from research firm comScore, David Payne of EarthLink Municipal Networks and your truly.

Payne agreed on the promise of WiFi but refrained from putting a timeline on the national hot zone availablity. “I think the technology is here, but the problems are more analog, getting people to build these networks,” Haas said, who in his previous incarnation was one of the cofounders of Covad, an early entrant into the DSL business. Haas believes that the an ad-supported access model will work in the case of WiFi based metro broadband offerings, primarily because the cost of deploying the networks is so low. According to some estimates, it costs about $10 million to unwire a big city like Philadelphia.

This is the primary mode of monetization for Google, which has just published key patents that help the search giant monetize the wireless nets more effectively.

Patent application No. 20060058019 seeks to develop a system for dynamically modifying the appearance of browser screens on a client device when connecting to a wireless access point. Under the patent, the browser’s appearance would be modified to reflect the brand associated with the wireless access-point provider. The patent application says that Wi-Fi Internet access would be provided freely to customers in exchange for their agreement to receiving ads on their devices.

If you circle back to my Business 2.0 story, The Google Net, this is precisely how the network was going to be monetized. Instead of using Feeva’s technology, well they seem to be building their own.

….. which can determine the location of every Wi-Fi user and would allow Google to serve up advertising and maps based on real-time data.

Ad supported access is not something new. Even today, Yahoo which has partnered with folks like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, kicks some share of the advertising dollars to its access partners. Free, however, is the Google mantra.

MetroFi is chanting that chant as well. “I think lot of people forget that there are a lot of local free newspapers which are jam packed with advertisements,” says Haas. “In comparison to those guys, our fixed costs are really really low.” But that is if they can build out a big enough sales force to sell ads on a local basis, but I think Chuck is onto something. What if he cut one of the newspaper chains into the action, and teamed up with them for local ad sales. They know local ads, MetroFi knows network operations, and well it could work out for both parties.

On the technology front, however, things are getting even more interesting. Only today I checked out Loki, a new offering that marries local services with Skyhook’s WiFi Positioning System. Being a broadband enthusiast of sorts, I applaud these recent developments. Still, I think Chuck and others are being too optimistic about the timeline. I think we are long ways off from relatively reliable connectivity via Wi-Fi. The wifi devices are still not ready for prime-time and are power guzzlers. While, readers of this blog are likely to be early users of these free metro WiFi networks, I wonder if mom would use it?

25 Responses to “5 Years For Nation Wide WiFi”

  1. MetroFi’s has some problems:

    1) Not all webpages are compatible with their free service. MetroFi has known about this problem for at least 2 months but has not fixed it yet.

    2) Good service requires your antenna to be fairly close to one of their antennas, so coverage even in coverage areas is pretty spotty. You may have problems even if you buy a high gain antenna. It depends on a lot of factors, including weather and traffic.

    3) Even with a good wifi signal, there may still be bottlenecks to the internet. MetroFi says they are working on this problem, but I suspect that speed and reliability will be a problem for some time to come.

    Sometimes, though, it works pretty good.

  2. Wally Bass

    Whether or not MetroFi can do the electronics part, they don’t yet have a viable advertising technology/methodology. They use html frames to merge their ads with whatever page you wanted, and the technique completely breaks the browser’s bookmarking function (the encompassing frame, rather than the page you wanted, gets bookmarked). That’s not acceptable, and it is not clear that alternative exist that will work within existing browsers.

    Not only that, but Google has 3 patents on WiFi related advertising that can shut anyone down, if they are upheld. (

  3. Ismaël Denis

    WiFi networks don’t coexist well with each other. This will be one of the main issue. Because having a bad worldwide wireless network, even for free, won’t help !

  4. The word “everywhere” inplies much more than just urban areas and their suberbs. To truly be useful, WiFi needs to reach the boonies, as well. Only by doing that will it truly overcome the location issue within the “digital divide”.

  5. I applaud Mr. Haas for his vision – sure, its self-serving (not many altruists out there), but this debate needs more visionaries like him to challenge our evolutionary, old-world paradigms. Our views of the telecom & IT world, where its going, and how fast it can change should be evolving rapidly, given the growth rate of technological capabilities in this area.

    On and, I’m promoting fresh viewpoints on telecommunications and communities, based on new potentials, not old assumptions and dogma. Given the viral emergent nature of these new technologies and low barriers to entry, I think we all may be surprised at how fast things can change in the next five years.

  6. Victor Blake

    802.11n will have a very positive effect for whole house coverage and inside of buildings. We don’t expect it to significantly impact quality and performance in outdoor (or so called metro wifi) networks.

  7. Well, 802.11n should arrive in 2007. And that could be a major boost. Given its low power mode, it could wind up in just about every mobile device – cellphones, mp3 players, pdas, laptops, etc. That could jumpstart the market. Which then puts the 5 year mark within range, even with the carriers opposed.

  8. Greg Jackson

    I liken what we see happening now across the globe not dissimilar to the 1849 Gold Rush. The carriers have pooh-poohed muni-wifi singularly because they have the most to lose. Since the February 3GSM conference in Barcelona, articles about cities being blanketed with wifi, UMA, wifi/cellular and wifi only handsets are proliferating like bunnies. As I read these articles, it seems that the movement toward ubiquetous wifi is massive & rapid. As an example, in Cincinnati, a city barely showing up in any of the reports, there are at least 2 initiatives already active and well underway. In recent weeks carriers have been announcing their entry into this fray. They have no choice. As it has already been said many times, if you can’t beat em, join em. In this scenario, I suspect that many of the traditional telcos balance sheets will suffer substantially in this tranfer of power.

  9. Hank Essay

    Mr. Evans, Vice President Gore never said he invented the internet despite the smears pushed by your ilk. It is a blatant falsehood promoted by hustlers like you. To everyone else, ignore his comment. By pushing this “big lie,” it is clear he has no idea what he is talking about in the world of technology. Because anyone who knows anything about the tech world knows they couldn’t carry Gore’s jockstrap in terms of impact on the internet…So take your trash elsewhere please…

  10. Dennis Evans

    The E-RATE has spent billions per year to wire schools/libraries…perhaps another boondoggle [free wireless] could be arranged…isn’t that part of the new Democratic 2008 Agenda.
    A mule and 40 acres covered with Wireless thank to the inventor of the Internet [exVPGore].

  11. To toot my own horn on this, I strongly believe that this is something that local communities need to band together to bring about… so that the pipes are not owned, leased or monitored solely by corporations, but that the people have access to this kind of connectivity, like public television, no matter their economic status or “monetizability”.

    This requires a process of “munification”:

  12. Mart_in

    Total cost (including backhaul) to unwire the significant SMSA’s in the US with today’s technology is in the $billions. Most Muni RFP’s are completely unfunded at this point. Google is going to pay for Mountain View and SF, Earthlink will chip in for SF and NY. Where is the rest of the money going to come from?

  13. “I think the technology is here, but the problems are more analog, getting people to build these networks,”>>

    I hate to be the grammer police, but we need to collectively put our foot down to stop the using of the word analog as a antonym for technology. Getting people to build networks is a business model problem or a regulatory problem etc., not an analog problem. When technojargon starts to become inane, we all lose.

  14. this Wifi ties into Level3 Conf Call in New York right now that says ”Wifi Hybrid Video Cellular”” will bring down the Cellular Carriers to the LVLT network or be PULVERIZED in the downloading revolution to IP VIDEO over Mobile!!! Yipppeee Kai Yaiiii Level3!

  15. Dennis Evans

    Cable Already has access to poles and easy powering…there are some nifty cable mounted WiFi/Max nodes with built in Cable modems using a dedicated new channel group for wireless. Why Mesh when you don’t have too.

    Cable is foolish to not offer a 1 M/256k wireless service to it’s bundled Cable/Inet/VOIP subs to fight low DSL prices.

    All they have to do is find a wireless wantabe parnter to help pay for the upgrade.

  16. 5 years? No way. The MSO’s and carriers are way too tightly entrenched in local politics. This threatens their business way too much. The MSO’s and the carriers have the pre-existing relationships with the local city councils, Chuck Haas and Metro WiFi don’t.

    It will happen but it will be closer to 10-12 years, not 5.