The city of San Francisco rolled out a free, public Wi-Fi network across three miles in its famous Market Street corridor, using more than a half million dollars' worth of equipment contributed by Ruckus Wireless.
Using the SSID "_San_Francisco_Free_WiFi" the new service is part of an effort to provide free, public Wi-Fi within and around San Francisco. The deployment can also be used as a utility service for existing and future city services.
San Francisco signed a tentative pact with AT&T (NYSE:T) during September 2012 for a Market Street Wi-Fi network. When Marc Touitou joined the city and county of San Francisco as chief information officer and director of the department of technology on April 29, 2013, negotiations were ongoing with AT&T and Ruckus.
Ruckus' Smart Cell 200 gateway.
"It was not going fast enough to my taste, and I wanted to simplify and accelerate the project. I wanted to partner with the other agencies of the city and create a city project to show that when we work together we go fast and we do it well, and that's what happened," he told FierceWirelessTech.
The city is supplying access to its 130-mile fiber-optic backbone for backhaul and manages the Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi access points are mounted on city-owned street furniture such as lamp posts.
Ruckus is donating between 170 and 200 of its Ruckus ZoneFlex 7782-S outdoor 802.11n access points, and its SmartCell Gateway 200 wireless LAN controllers are deployed within the city's data center to aggregate traffic and provide centralized management of the Wi-Fi infrastructure. Further, in areas without fiber backhaul, Ruckus' smart mesh networking technology is providing wireless connections between access points. Touitou valued Ruckus' contribution to the project at $700,000.
The new network also uses 1 gigabit of Internet access service from Layer42 Networks to reach the public Internet, according to SFGate.
Touitou said San Francisco's Wi-Fi network will not require passwords or the viewing of advertising. Further, the system will automatically recognize and log in repeat users.
San Francisco has other public Wi-Fi initiatives on deck as well. Last summer, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) agreed to donate $600,000 so the city can deploy free Wi-Fi in 31 San Francisco parks during 2014.
Back in 2005, Google also joined with Earthlink on a bid to build a San Francisco-wide free Wi-Fi network. The network was proposed by former Mayor Gavin Newsom during the first heyday of municipal Wi-Fi deployments. The plan was shelved in September 2007 as municipal Wi-Fi networks showed signs of struggle, and Earthlink bailed on the project.
Muni Wi-Fi networks are enjoying a resurgence after the ill-fated starts of the past decade. Thanks to renewed interest, Ruckus has begun focusing on muni Wi-Fi as a unique and expanding vertical market, said company spokesman David Callisch.
The vendor has recently won, through reseller partners, deals with several U.S. cities as well as with the city of York in the United Kingdom. Sometimes these deals are for free public access, such as Ruckus' 2012 contract to provide San Jose, Calif., with equipment for its Wickedly Fast Wi-Fi deployment. But most of the time they concern specific municipal applications, such as data dumps from police cars, Callisch said.
He noted there are opportunities for muni Wi-Fi networks to attract new revenue streams though roaming partnerships with mobile operators and cable TV companies that offer Wi-Fi to their broadband customers. Touitou said such revenue streams are not part of San Francisco's mindset right now, though they could be in the future.
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