Electronic Design

Google, EarthLink To Provide Free Wi-Fi For San Francisco

Google and EarthLink will build a citywide wireless broadband access network for San Francisco, an endeavor that some estimate will cost several million dollars.

Basic wireless Internet access at 300 kbits/s will be free for residents and supported by local advertising. A T1 alternative, which will run at a much faster 1.5 or 3.0 Mbits/s, will be made available to citizens, businesses, educators, and visitors for around $20 per month.

The San Francisco Department of Telecommunications and Information selected the duo to provide wireless Internet access for the city over five other bidders last week, including IBM/Cisco, NextWLAN, and Razortooth Communications. Google and EarthLink will team up with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Tropos Networks Inc. to build the Wi-Fi mesh network system, and Motorola, who will install and integrate the network.

The mesh network will originate from a local EarthLink backbone site, which will route signal to a nearby aggregation tower. Data traffic will then be distributed from the aggregation tower to Tropos’ mesh Wi-Fi nodes through Motorola canopy radios. The mesh nodes will be placed on light poles throughout the city to broadcast signal to end users, who will access the Internet through industry-standard Wi-Fi equipment.

There has been a lot of speculation about the cost of the massive Wi-Fi network, which some reports estimate to be as much as $15 million, but neither Google nor EarthLink have publicly stated how much they will expend on the project. Google spokesperson Megan Quinn said the two companies would share the cost of building and sustaining the network. Work is expected to commence by year’s end.

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