Don't Get Too Excited About That Free Google WiFi

from the strings-attached dept

There’s been a lot of excitement about the Google-Earthlink bid to build citywide WiFi service in San Francisco, particularly Google’s plans to offer a free, ad-supported service. Now, the two companies are planning to team up in another city, but Earthlink’s CEO says the free services will be much more limited, since he thinks it will be hard to generate the $7 per month per user needed to break even. All users will be able to access are area web sites and Google’s local search — which should put a damper on people’s enthusiasm. While the idea of free citywide WiFi sounds great, it looks like it’s something that’s difficult to deliver: remember, too, that Philadelphia officials first talked up the idea of free WiFi there, and now it’s become $10 or $20 per month. This isn’t to say that municipally-supported WiFi networks are a bad idea, but rather just that they may not provide the free connectivity some people are expecting. Update: A new survey says that people don’t want to pay for public WiFi, which would seem to go against what the Earthlink CEO says — but more people say they don’t use public WiFi because they don’t need to, which would validate what he’s saying. Pricing and business model are things that can be adjusted, but convincing people both that they need to use WiFi networks then getting them to pay for it might be a tough task.

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Comments on “Don't Get Too Excited About That Free Google WiFi”

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Allen says:

Re: Free Internet Access

Although is sounds like a good idea, I (and many) would lose too many benefits of having your own residential service. For instance, networking devices together (Tivo, Flie Servers, desktops, etc.). In order for the desktops to be Wi-Fi accessible, you would have to pay for adapters, which are reasonable but still not free. To limit my viewing capacity (local sites only?) would totally put the hammer down on this idea. The great part about the Internet is to be able to reach out to the far corners of the world and in terms of commerce and such. To only get my local targeted (area) websites just wouldn’t work for me. Since I already pay Charter for cable, which also provides the needed services for my Vonage, I would rather pay the extra few bucks to have unprecedented speed and access to the Web.

This is nice for someone that needs to be mobile, but if it isn’t 100% open and free, it sounds like there are too many drawbacks.

Alpharocker (user link) says:

Philly was never free

The Philly wi-fi initiative was never a “free” only proposal. From the moment it had been suggested most said there was the potential a small fee would be involved.

Also, philly already has $20 wi-fi, at acceptable speeds. Its called Closed Networks. Its not too bad if you don’t mind GREAT upload speeds, decent download speeds and signing a contract.

NGUVU says:


If the service is free and if they could force the Google search page as the primary gateway and not allowing DNS resolution for any other website…then all users would be exposed to Google Adwords (until they get away from search and to the site they choose). With that much exposure, the cost of pay-per-click advertising would dramatically increase along with Google’s overall popularity and revenue. Therefore the market value for providing a free WiFi service would skyrocket for Google. This would be a win-win scenario for all parties involved. If you don’t want to see light advertising via Goolge Adwords…don’t use the free service.

meoryou says:

Re: Well...

yes, since you know i ignore the ads on my pay connection (and block them too) i’m SURE i am just gonna convert because my access is now “free”…. i can get “free” access just about anywhere i want, you would be surprised at how many open wifi spots there are…and how you can offer to setup security on them for a reasonable price (not to mention keep the WEP, WPA etc. keys for later “administration” use >:-) )

Chris says:

City Wide Wi-Fi

The main problem with all WiFi systems is line of sight and signal strength. Having worked for two seperate companies that offer city wide wifi I can assure you that lighting up a entire city is no easy task. A major misconception about city wide wifi access is that you are free to roam about the city and maintain a continous connection. Currently the only way to do this is having a system in place similar to that of a cell phone network. A licensed frequency specificaly for WiFi only. This we see from companies such as Verizon. However, the equipment needed to offer this type of service is by no means cheep, and to use it provide free access means alternative means of revenuve have to be looked for, usualy supported by ads.

The alternative to providing city wide access is to use either standard 802.11 or MMDS. With MMDS you need a large receiving antenna, a trasnceiver, and a modem which offers virtualy no portability. Not to mention a license from the FCC which sprint has almost exclusive rights too. With 802.11 you have to worry about interferance and SSID authentication. As you move about with your standard 802.11 card scanning for that SSID to connect to, you’ll more than likely connect to the same SSID from several transmitters. Knowing which transmitter to connect to is determined by signal strength. So if you’re in between two transmitters, and singal strength is fluctuating it’s liekly your connection will continualy drop and reconnect between the two.

So in order to provide a free service to a wide coverage area that is more practical and cost effective than walking into a starbucks, or piggy backing off a random unsecured router, means having equipment that can maintain a continous link with the end user. Seeing as the equipment needed to support a semi-Line of Sight system, that can blast through all the skyscrapers, cars, and whatever other microwave absorbingreflecting objects scatter about a city is pretty costly, I wouldn’t expect to see any FREE WiFi service anytime soon.

Bob says:

land of the free, eh?

“Free” usually translates to “lame.” Whenever there is an option for tiered service, the lower tiers usually suck and the tiers that don’t suck are pricey. You can get cable for $30 a month, but if you want to watch movies, you need to pay through the nose for a higher tier of service. Just look at the “free laptop” or “free iPod” deals on the Web. You have to jump through a ton of hoops before you get your free item, and the cost, while not necessarily financial, is substantial.

Paulo (user link) says:

Most complain, some take action...

check out for free broadband in San Diego. is a non-profit community group dedicated to building, deploying and growing public wireless networks to increase widespread broadband adoption and create an empowered, connected society, where technology becomes a community resource. They are grassroots, community based volunteers who will help you build and use free wireless networks using Wi-Fi technology.

Daniel McNerney says:

Free? WiFi

Thing one as a San Franciscoian I look forward to “low priced WiFi” it solves so many problems. Being able to log on from almost any were in the city (very useful) and not having to pay Att or Comcast for service you don’t use just to get the services you do. I’d much rather use Direct TV and Voip (cheaper).

Thing two you won’t loose your local home network. You will simply set you computer to act as a gateway to your router

With the price of dsl and cable now running at close to $35.00 a month (come on forget the lure you in specials) $20.00 dollars a month sounds very reasonable for universal access. This will be a good deal

Just think of the new Voip wireless phones. Screw your cell bill.

Daniel McNerney Comcast at home, Att at work. I pay for both

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