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SF Wifi More Than Flipping a Switch 114

Posted by Zonk
from the expensive-air dept.
An anonymous reader writes "News.com is carrying a story looking at the costly rollout of the Google/EarthLink SF Wifi project." From the article: "EarthLink said it expects the project to run to between $6 million and $8 million in initial costs, which include attaching radios and receivers to utility poles throughout the city. Within 10 years it expects the whole network, complete with upgrades and maintenance, to cost about $15 million. Finer financial details of the project haven't been made public, but the plan calls for EarthLink and Google to contribute to the initial cost of building the network. It's not clear what the split between the two companies will be. Once the network is built, Google will pay EarthLink for access to the network on a wholesale basis. In order to make access free to people in San Francisco, Google will use revenue generated from local advertisements to pay for access to the EarthLink network."
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SF Wifi More Than Flipping a Switch

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  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:21PM (#15271384) Journal
    The second option allows anyone to get 300Kbps [37.5 KB] download service for free in exchange for viewing local advertisements through Google.
    It seems to me that Google is just hoping that everyone in San Fran is going to use their search engine.

    Or am I mischaracterizing Google's "free service" business plan?
    • Doesn't everybody already?

    • free in exchange for viewing local advertisements through Google

      Advertisements for Child Porn [slashdot.org]?

      /insert obvious San Francisco follow-up joke here

    • by Anonymous Coward
      It seems to me that Google is just hoping that everyone in San Fran is going to use their search engine.

      I'm not familiar with how Google plans on making money. Here's how this makes sense to me.
      1. Offer free wi-fi (doesn't even need to be the ad supported account thing they're planning - it could totally free).
      2. This increases the total number of people who will web surf.
      3. This increases the total amount of time people already spend web surfing (they can cheaply surf while they're away from home/work now)
    • by cyngus (753668) on Friday May 05, 2006 @02:32PM (#15271994)
      Here in the Bay Area you aren't even allowed to use other search engines. Within a 100 mile radius of Mountain View Google sifts all Internet traffic looks for requests to other search engines. If it finds that you've requested MSN, Ask, A9 or the like it does one of two things
      1) If you're using a Windows machine, it'll probably just blue screen you, you'll curse Microsoft, and probably just use Google the next time, I mean, what kind of worthless operating system/browser pair can't even load their own company's search page. Sometime though, it'll do the second option, just to keep people entertained.
      2) If you are Linux/UNIX/Macix it renders a custom search page for you that LOOKS like the search engine you requested, but actually returns Google results and displays Google ads. Google considers this a risky play, as they could just redirect you to the Google home page, but they feel its necessary to maintain the cloak on this operation.
      Hey, this is just what you do, if you have virtually limitless processing power, bandwidth, and storage.
    • Let's hope that it's not as lame as the awful Netzero free service, where even redirects were dumped off to a NetZero advertising page.

      Hey, I'm using NetZero already, don't advertise to me. It felt like spyware, terminating my account didn't, and removing all traces of it from my PC was a registry nightmare.
    • by vought (160908)
      "EarthLink said it expects the project to run to between $6 million and $8 million in initial costs, which include attaching radios and receivers to utility poles throughout the city. Within 10 years it expects the whole network, complete with upgrades and maintenance, to cost about $15 million.

      Double those costs.

      Now, double them again.

      Google is trying to do with one public frequency and a LAN-based technology what Metricom could barely do with three public frequency ranges and a true microcellular archite
  • Citywide hotspots (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kranfer (620510) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:22PM (#15271397) Homepage Journal
    While I am all for the spread of citywide wireless networking, I would also like to point out there are are still many places here in the U.S. that cannot even get Broadband in any way, shape, or form. I grew up in such an area near Cooperstown, NY. I am glad to see such civic projects brought to you by Google, but I would hope that someday they might reach out to the rural people as they have only dialup. It would also be nice to see this plan implemented elsewhere as well, like Albany, NY...Boston, NYC and the like. Ah well.
    • Yes, you can.

      Is it cheap? No. But it's available: http://www.direcway.com/ [direcway.com]

      • I suspect that they meant

        1) Terresterially based (or reasonable fascimilie, ie: cell/fixed wireless to semi-local site)
        2) Reasonable Latency (for all your VoIP and other streaming media apps)
        3) Bidirectional (yes, cable and sat solved this awhile ago, but it's still popular since the internet is all download, right? nobody ever publishes content)

        I have a similar problem, I am planning on making another call (now that it's been about 1-1.5 yrs since i spoke to the local construction manager) to the cabl

    • Some rural areas, like middle-of-nowhere, Oregon, haven't relied on corporate munificence: http://www.wirednews.com/news/wireless/0,1382,6923 4,00.html [wirednews.com]
    • Its just not economic- the people are too spread out in rural areas. It took federal legislation and handing a monopoly to AT&T to get them telephone lines. We'd need similar legislation to get them broadband, and I don't see that happening with this administration.
      • Thats pretty unusual, considering this admin is all about creating/reinforcing monopolies.

        The idea is to get ~rid~ of monopolies, and govts power to create/protect them, not use govt to create ~more~ monopolies.

        Yes, there are drawbacks to living in rural areas. Those drawbacks are often what attract people to living in rural areas in the first place.
    • I know this sounds mean and anti-rural (my disclaimer: I grew up in a small town, parent still live there, grandparents do live in "rural area"), but all places aren't equal. While its nice to think that we should all have the same everything, it doesn't happen that way. I'm certainly not advocating everyone leaving the country side, but prioritize what you want in a house/home. If the ability to have cheap/free wireless or in some cases broadband at all (always DirectWay) is high on your priorities then
  • by east coast (590680)
    Within 10 years it expects the whole network, complete with upgrades and maintenance, to cost about $15 million.

    In about 10 years you're going to be able to buy single wireless access points from Best Buy that will cover the size of the city and it's bandwidth needs for about 50 USD.

    While I can understand the desire for the project in the long run I think it's going to look as wasteful as the number of railroad tracks that have been abandoned across the US, and in about 1/10th the time.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In about 10 years you're going to be able to buy single wireless access points from Best Buy that will cover the size of the city and it's bandwidth needs for about 50 USD.

      Not going to happen given how the FCC manages spectrum and transmission power.
      • In about 10 years you're going to be able to buy single wireless access points from Best Buy that will cover the size of the city and it's bandwidth needs for about 50 USD.

        Not going to happen given how the FCC manages spectrum and transmission power.

        Good point. Technology changes rapidly, not the laws of physics. For an access point to have that kind of capability, it would dump pretty high-power transmissions into the EM spectrum. While it is possible that the technology to do that will improve, by

    • Ok.. question though. Why would you want one of these city covering WAPs? Are you trying to invite intruders and government spies into your network? Also imagine how much interference this would produce having lets say 1000 of these in one city. Nope, not gonna happen.
    • by B1ackDragon (543470) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:41PM (#15271547)
      While I can understand the desire for the project in the long run I think it's going to look as wasteful as the number of railroad tracks that have been abandoned across the US, and in about 1/10th the time.

      I dunno, those railroad tracks might look wasteful now, but they were a huge part of industry and economy in the past. Just because something is going to be obsolete in the future (near or far) I don't think it's necessarily not worth doing.

      Railroads entered in an era of ubiquitous travel, perhaps this google thing will enter in the era of ubiquitous net access. (As another stated, some areas have no access to broadband at all.) Personally, my hope is maybe if these sorts of networks are open and usable enough, it will give comcast et. al. the overpriced slap they deserve.
      • Hey who knows, the cost of transporting goods via semi-truck might get so expensive because of fuel that they have to switch back to trains. Sure, it will take an extra week or so to receive your shipment, but I'm guessing it must be more efficient. We shouldn't be so quick to abandon "old" technology just because it isn't convient for today.

        My guess is that these networks will remain slower than the wired connections internet providers will offer. Sure, you can get 300kbps out of them, but if you pay $$/mo
      • Also, those railroad tracks would probably not be derelict if the government had continued to subsidize railroad at the same rate it has roads, and airlines. A lot of the reason rail died in this country was not inefficiency, but oil lobbying.
    • OK since people can't read between the lines obviously...

      My refrence to single access points is about the advancement of technology. I didn't mean to suggest that people would actually want/need this technology.

      For God's sake... if these people are THIS critical of such a comment I can only imagine some of the other posts they feel the need to be so critical of.
    • "While I can understand the desire for the project in the long run I think it's going to look as wasteful as the number of railroad tracks that have been abandoned across the US, and in about 1/10th the time."

      The abandoned railroadtracks are wasteful, but not in the way you mean. All that transportation capacity has been swithced to the freeways on to rubber wheels.

      You could almost compare it to abandoning a huge network of optical cables and instead using current wireless technology for the whole internet.
    • Railroads are far more efficent than trucking, but trucking is heavily subsidized relative to trains, both directly and indirectly. As energy prices spike, those tracks are going to see a lot more use both with regard to cargo and people.

      The rail system also has a indirect value in terms of right of way and associated power networks. The Sprint telco was a spin-off of the Southern Pacific Railroad INTernal fiber network.

      As for wireless, while the wireless routers may change, requiring changeover of the circ
    • You're thinking of The Tesla WiFi coil? The World System, aye?

      Are those stickers Do not use near people with pacemakers just for show?
  • I wonder if the technicians will have flowers in their hair? (hehe, couldn't resist) Seriously though, it will be interesting to watch and see how a privately operated public internet access system will work. I think it will work out, but I forsee lots of complaints of wadeing through adware to get to anything important.. guess we'll see.
    • Boo! Someone get the hook!
    • I think it will work out, but I forsee lots of complaints of wadeing through adware to get to anything important.. guess we'll see.

      That is what the Ad-supported tech support is for...

      Tech support person: "Thank you for calling Google/Earthlink Wireless support! How can I help you!"
      Customer: "I can't connect to the internet!"
      Tech support person: "Are you on a free account?"
      Customer: "Ummm... I think..."
      Tech support person: *types in "I can't connect to the internet in google"* "Sponsored Links T1's starting
  • Wouldn't a system of Wimax(ground microwave) be a better alternative ? Homeowners would have to buy the transmitter & dish. Building the tower would be the big expense.
    • They are using existing utility poles to screw the wap's into. No new poles, as far as I can tell. And wimax is not very widely used - wifi at least has excellent hardware ubiquity.
    • by Comboman (895500) on Friday May 05, 2006 @03:48PM (#15272738)
      WiMax is a good alternative for rural areas that aren't already served with broadband access. Those folks would be willing to put up with the expense/uglyness/non-portability of a dish.

      I'm sure SanFrancisco is already well served with cable and DSL options for homeowners. The people interested in free WiFi access are people on-the-go (laptops, handhelds, etc) and those who can't afford broadband. In both cases, WiFi is the way to go, since the client-side hardware is both portable and low-cost.

  • Costly? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    $15 million is not a lot. The thrust of the article seems to be skepticism that it can be pulled off for so cheap, in fact.
  • What about SFLan? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:42PM (#15271556)
    I hope this whole project does not kill SFLan:

    http://www.archive.org/web/sflan.php/ [archive.org]

    the already existing free wifi network in San Francisco.

    I can see the popularity of google actually hurting the development of this grassroots project significantly; even though SFLan is adfree.
  • Another problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sfjoe (470510) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:47PM (#15271603)

    A really common type of home construction in San Francisco is stucco exteriors. The chicken wire used to support the stucco is going to interfere with reception.

  • Cost Per Household (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MCSEBear (907831) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:47PM (#15271604)
    As of the year 2000 census the city of San Francisco had 329,700 households. Let's take the worst case and say the wifi project costs eight million in initial costs. $8,000,000.00 divided by 329,700 households = 24.26 dollars per household.

    Let's round it up to twenty five dollars and realize what a bargain price that is! For less than a household usually pays for one month of service it is possible to roll out the infrastructure to support all the households in the city. Of course, you have a reoccuring monthly cost after that for the bandwidth the households will be using.

    Within ten years they expect an additional seven million dollars in costs, bringing the total to fifteen million. Gee, how horrible to have to pay another 25 bucks or so per household within ten years for this service. It's past time for the cities in America to start providing low or no cost bandwidth as a service just as we have low cost water and sewage service. The ISP's have overcharged for their services for long enough.
    • Totally agree.
    • It's past time for the cities in America to start providing low or no cost bandwidth as a service just as we have low cost water and sewage service.

      I totally agree, and I just hope that in the long run, WiFi doesn't go the way of bottled water...
    • My water/sewage bill is about $60/month. That's not low-cost.
      • My 256 Kbit DSL connection is fifty bucks a month. That's certainly not cheap either! The phone company here rips you off, but they are the only game in town. There is no other local broadband choice (If 256 Kbits a second can even be considered broadband.) I could go with Hughes Net, but then I can't get my Warcraft fix.
        • My 256 Kbit DSL connection is fifty bucks a month. That's certainly not cheap either!

          And I thought my 8Mbit DSL at 45eur/month was expensive.

          Btw. It seems like the euro symbol doesn't work on slashdot? (i can type it into comment field, but it doesn't appear in the preview)
    • $15 million is chickenfeed.

      The cellular mobile network in San Francisco cost somewhere between 10X and 100X more, depending on which equipment you count as part of that network.

      I would wager that that $15 million is in the neighborhood of, possibly less than, the cost of the trunked radio network used by San Francisco police and other public safety mobile units.

      Even if there are significant problems to be fixed as Earthlink climbs the learning curve on operating a network like this, capex and opex looks lik
  • 10 years until it is done? Or is that just the estimated price to finish the network and to pay for maintenance for 10 years?

    The slow project to put WiFi hotspots all over a single city seems likely to be surpassed in a relatively short time by other technologies. For example, I think that within a couple of years just about every business laptop user, at least, will want to have a cell phone Internet modem. Currently, Verizon and Sprint (maybe others) offer 144K connections, and this will (eventually) get
  • Philly Too (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IAmTheDave (746256) <basenamedave-sd@ ... SD.com minus bsd> on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:53PM (#15271652) Homepage Journal
    I live in Philadelphia where there is also a city-wide wireless push. Again, costs are going to be higher than expected (around $15M) and it is plauged with problems - like WIFI probably won't reach past the fourth floor of most buildings. With WiMAX and 802.11n around the corner, why not wait just a year or so?
  • Massive giveaway (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DysenteryInTheRanks (902824) on Friday May 05, 2006 @01:55PM (#15271674) Homepage
    As someone who works in San Francisco and has a grasp of basic math, let me explain why this is a total giveaway to Earthlink.

    If they had just taxed 740,000 San Franciscans, they could have raised the $15 million Earthlink says is needed to build the network at a TOTAL cost of $20.27 per person.

    That's $20. Not per month, not per year, but for 10 years of free wireless service. Considering the city's tax base works out to $7,100 per citizen per year (paid partly by businesses of course), that's quite a bargain.

    The annual budget for San Francisco is about $5 billion [bizjournals.com]. According to the article, the initial cost to deploy this wireless network is estimated at $6 million to $8 million, or roughly 1/1000th of the city budget.

    Earthlink has been granted a monopoly on city property and exemptions from certain regulations to build a citywide WiFi network. (Google is just leasing from them.) In exchange, they generously agree to rent the network for $20 per month to an average chump, or at some unspecified rate to Google, who will offer it for "free" to users.

    Basic math: at $20 per sub per month, Earthlink only needs about 35,000 subscribers to recoup their worst-case build out cost within ONE YEAR.

    If Google is paying them just a quarter of that, they would only need about 18 percent of the SF population, which is right around what they plan to get. Of course, after the first year they are minting money, since by their own estimate the maintence cost is about $1 million per year, plus customer support (only for paid customers surely) and billing.

    In other words, the people of San Francisco will pay every single year the total cost to build the network. All this to avoid the evil of taxes and to experience the EFFICIENCY OF THE MARKET.

    I am beginning to lose the fervent blind capitalist leanings of my youth because I live in San Francisco. Not surprising that this happened, but I am surprised at how.

    • by feepness (543479)
      I am beginning to lose the fervent blind capitalist leanings of my youth because I live in San Francisco. Not surprising that this happened, but I am surprised at how.

      It's the government giving the money away, not corporations.

      They take it by force and then hand it to a corporation. And then people complain about the corporations. The corps don't have guns.

      Mostly.
    • What are you talking about? This has nothing to do with captalism or free markets. As you point out in your post:

      "Earthlink has been granted a monopoly on city property and exemptions from certain regulations to build a citywide WiFi network"

      How is the granting of a monopoly by a govt agency 'capitalism'?

      And from the article:

      "..One allows subscribers to pay about $20 per month for a 1Mbps connection from EarthLink or another Internet service provider leasing capacity on the Wi-Fi network."

      It sounds to me li
  • Good luck (Score:4, Informative)

    by chill (34294) on Friday May 05, 2006 @02:04PM (#15271766) Journal
    WiFi B/G (the 2.4 GHz spectrum) has only 3 non-overlapping channels: 1,6,11. Linksys sets their equipment to default to 6. I'm not sure about other vendors.

    Where I live, in a small town in Idaho, there are three wireless networks in my range. Mine and two neighbors. There are half-a-dozen downtown and maybe two dozen more around town. NONE of them, except for mine and one neighbor's are secured at all. 90% of them have the SSID of "linksys" and are sitting on channel 6, stomping on each other.

    Connectivity from even two houses down is abysmal and frequently you will see your connection hop from one to another, and I don't mean seamlessly, either.

    How is Google/Earthlink going to handle all the people who already have WLANs? Are they just going to pick a channel like 1 or 11 and say "sorry, we're here with the strongest signal"? I'd be strongly tempted to switch my personal stuff to the 5 GHz band (Wifi-A), but that wouldn't be cheap as I'd have to refit a Tivo, two X-Boxes and 3 PCs.

    WiFi is a freaking mess and can be a source of no end of issues. I wonder just how Google is going to deal with all that.
    • A trivial search reveals dozens of municipal wifi networks already in use. [waztempe.com]

      You can add the ubiquitous coverage in airports, marinas, hotels, etc. that have been in place for years and years. There are hundreds if not thousands of network engineers that do this for a living and are good at their work.

      Of course consumer equipment set up by idiots and designed for indoor use won't provide a citywide network.

      You might need to change what channel you use on your tivo or whatnot. But you'd have to do that anyway

      • You can add the ubiquitous coverage in airports, marinas, hotels, etc. that have been in place for years and years.

        Airports are closed environments and rarely will you find an overlapping network. This is why they actually work. I have no experience with marinas. I have lots with hotels, who go to great lenghts to install LOTS of overlapping access points to just plain drown out all the external signals from other hotels, truck stops, etc. They still have issues and wifi access at many hotels is a royal
        • Sorry about that, I kinda went off.

          Every time this has come up lately someone has to chime in and say that it's impossible. Makes me crazy.

          • Every time this has come up lately someone has to chime in and say that it's impossible. Makes me crazy.

            Perhaps that is because some of us have tried.

            802.11a/b/g was simply not designed for MANs. You can do a decent installation at an airport or your local Starbucks so that people can check their mail and browse the web. Smarter access points can mitigate this somewhat, and you can also get some way by carpet bombing the area with access points. But using a/b/g to saturate a large area with stable bandwidth
            • Agreed, you don't want to host a popular domain with municipal wifi, but that isn't the point. All the target audience for this service does is check mail & surf the web.

              I'll get on the horn and tell the dozens of cities with functioning municipal wifi to tear 'em out, they're not practical.

  • by heroine (1220) on Friday May 05, 2006 @02:07PM (#15271801) Homepage
    It's a tourist attraction. What is 90% of the bay area going to do, drive 50 miles from San Jose to San Francisco to participate in the Google revolution?

  • Say, you carpool with your tennis buddy back from the court. He is trying to catch some new pictures of Sha^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hs from US Open.

    Will it be seemlessly reconnecting with "15th pole Netgear", "3rd pole on 2nd Ave Linksys"?

    If they will be using the same connection type that I have at home, forget it.
  • but for god sake..there is allready better technology to do that..and even many times cheaper..thats XMAX, this only, will make a revolution on internet accesses.
    http://www.xgtechnology.com/ [xgtechnology.com]

    http://www.codingheaven.net/ [codingheaven.net]
  • Gee, maybe if Google/Earthlink buys up Metricom's rights-of way, my shares would be worth something. And my erstwhile stock broker told me not to sell...what the hell was I thinking.
    • shades of ricochet! you mean they don't get to use
      the same lightpoles (the night/day solar sensor socket)
      for free antenna power?

      ricochet was neat but weird, with never enough repeaters
      for hilly areas. come to think of it, plain dropout-ridden
      cell networks here in frisco don't have enough juice.

      and, we really do need to surf at the beach.
  • Is if they could get it on Caltrain like they have it on the ACE. It's not a lot of square miles.
  • by Hasai (131313)
    Let me get this straight; this community connectivity will cost about $15 million?

    How much is that in Iraq War minutes???
  • Considering in my condo there are at least 7 wifi networks I can connect to ( including my own ) I wonder who is this for? If you are so poor you cannot get internet access, then are you really going to own a computer? If you are that poor, and you can make it to the library internet access is free there. So who is this really for?

    Hackers and tourists that's who!

    I do have to wonder how the activist who don't like the idea of sprint and other phone companies putting in cell towers are reacting to the cit

  • So 49 square miles and 750,000 residents willo be served by a network rollout that costs only 6 - 8 million to initially build and only 15 million for 10 years. But the cost of a connection is 20 per month for 1.0 mb/sec. So if 1/3 of the residents sign up the network pays for itself in 2 months? Some of these numbers have got to be misstated. Or SF just got a real raw deal.
  • $15 million over 10 years? That doesn't sound like much, given that San Francisco's general fund expenditures will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion over the same period.

    As much as we love them, Google isn't doing this out of altruism. They expect this to be valuable. Why turn this important piece of infrastructure over to a private company so cheaply? Wouldn't it be better for the city to build it and control it? The city could run it without advertising, in rich and poor neighborhoods, witho
    • Talk to someone in Colorado about why you have such cheap water; talk to the rest of the people in Cal as to why its so cheap (hint..youre not paying the full cost of your water usage. Others are being forced to pay for it for you).

      If shifting the cost from you (for your water use) to someone else is your idea of efficient, then yes its very efficient.

      By the way, can you provide an example of a privately run water system (not a govt granted monopoly), meaning there are multiple water companies that consumer

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