WiFi Outlook Cloudy in Mountain View

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
11/6/2006



Users of the Google-supported municipal WiFi network in Mountain View, Calif., have chimed in on the service they're getting -- and the picture is about as rosy as a military update from Baghdad.

Writing on a Google message board, users responded to the question, "How many residents (or users) in Mountain View are benefiting from Google's WiFi Network?"

A sampling of the responses indicates that the network still has a long way to go:

  • "My house is on California St. (cross street is Rengstorff) and I can rarely have the Google WiFi stable connected by using Ruckus MetroFlex device (the PepLink is worse). I cannot use Google's network even though house (and window) is by the street, so I cannot imagine how the people who are living away from the street can access Google's wifi network." (Posted by "weili")

  • "I live near Farley St. and get an 'OK' connection, using my HP V2410's Broadcom WiFi adapter. I work near Shoreline and get about the same speed. I once tried connecting near Therkauf (sp) elementary school, and couldnt get connected there, even though I was right underneath an access point!" ("wayshwing")

  • "While I can see and connect from inside my home, the service isn't useable at all no matter where I am while inside. Yet, if I go outside and position myself near Google's AP on the street, the signal from my own cheapy AP is strong and very usable." ("Brian")

  • "I am about 400 ft from the nearest Google WiFi Node and I had one of the three Google-suggested companies come by and test and set up a system. After two hours of trying both Ruckus and Peplink systems we could not get any connection from my house." ("DJA")

  • "I have been trying to acess GoogleWiFi for the last two months with very spotty success. I am on N Shoreline near Middlefield, between two nodes. I use a laptop on the second floor of an apartment complex. I thought the extremely weak and intermittent signal was because of the trees, but I took my laptop outside one evening, past the trees, where I get a clear line of sight to a node (and the other node in the distance). The signal was just as weak." ("uthr")


Google technicians have posted two responses on the board, saying the system is "primarily an outdoor network," that signal strength depends largely on the power of users' antenna, and recommending that indoor users purchase "a high-power WiFi modem." The company also says it is deploying more nodes to erase dead zones on the network, and is looking at installing equipment at specific apartment complexes to boost the connection for apartment dwellers.

The question of the coverage in Mountain View is a ticklish one for the search giant because Google has promoted the deployment as a high-powered showcase for its municipal networking technology (the infrastructure in Mountain View is supplied by Tropos Networks Inc. ). As other cities around the country experience unexpected hiccups in deploying WiFi networks, the dissatisfaction in Mountain View could give pause to officials and users in other towns looking at muni networks. (See Mesh: Interference in the City?)

In other words, if Mountain View -- an affluent, relatively small, and extremely tech-savvy community in the heart of Silicon Valley -- can't get decent service, how will less favored cities fare?

That question is particularly relevant for San Francisco, which is still in contract talks with Google and EarthLink for a widely publicized muni WiFi system. (See SF Net to Go Public?)

"This," says Kimo Crossman, a leading critic of the Google-EarthLink proposal, "is why San Francisco should insist on a proof of concept before any contract is signed."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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