Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) confirmed Wednesday it has partnered with the ISP EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) to compete for a contract to build San Francisco's municipal WiFi network. (See Google, Earthlink Bid on WiFi.)

Google and EarthLink submitted one of seven responses to a request for proposal (RFP) from the city, a spokesman says.

Google and EarthLink submitted separate proposals to the city during the previous phase of the vendor selection process last fall. Google's plan to offer free, ad-supported WiFi remains in the Google/EarthLink proposal, but an option for consumers to buy a higher tier of broadband service from EarthLink for around $20 has been added in. (See Municipal Broadband Networks.)

“In this proposal, Google will provide a free WiFi service citywide and EarthLink will serve as the premium service provider,” Google’s Megan Quinn said in an email to Light Reading Wednesday. (See Google Backlash Builds.)

According to the Google/EarthLink proposal, the free access would deliver a throughput of "300 Kbps for users citywide." The paid service tier would deliver "best efforts 1Mbps downstream and upstream" and would be priced at "around $20.00 per month." A number of competing ISPs would offer access over the network, the proposal says.

The Google/EarthLink alliance could have far-reaching consequences for EarthLink if things go well in San Francisco. (See Google's Ad-Mad Network .) Some observers believe San Francisco is but the first of many major cities to which Google would like to roll out free, ad-supported WiFi. (See Google's Own Private Internet and Google Cubes.)

“By coming together to leverage the strengths of both companies, we will be able to offer services to different customers on the network that fit with their own individual needs and wants,” EarthLink VP of municipal networks Donald Berryman says in a statement. (See Wireless Mesh Test Gets Underway.)

Google's chances of winning in San Francisco might be helped by EarthLink's recent momentum in the municipal WiFi world. (See EarthLink Hooks Up Philly.) EarthLink has already won high-profile municipal WiFi contracts in the cities of Philadelphia and Anaheim, Calif., and is competing for several others.

Given the complexity of municipal wireless networks, it’s no surprise that partnerships are forming even before the contract has been awarded, says analyst Esme Vos of MuniWireless.com .

The hardware element of such networks include everything from base stations to switching equipment to backhaul gear. Software elements include such things as Internet access, various broadband services, and billing and other back-end functions. (See Poll: RBOCs Fuel 'Broadband Gap'.)

The Google/EarthLink proposal calls for Tropos Networks Inc. to provide wireless mesh network equipment. (See Gorillas in the Mesh.) Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is named in the proposal to provide the backhaul equipment that moves wireless traffic from the WiFi nodes to the access towers.

“When you look at EarthLink they partner with all kinds of people,” Vos says. “EarthLink’s an ISP, they’re not a systems integrator – so they would need somebody to go in and set up the nodes and somebody to put in the back-end software.”

San Francisco chief administrative officer Ron Vinson told Light Reading Wednesday that his office received a total of seven competing proposals. (See Coalition Calls for Community Broadband.)

Competing with the Google/EarthLink combo will be MetroFi Inc. , Communication Bridge Global, NextWLAN, Razortooth Communications, SF Metro Connect (a partnership of SeaKay, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)), and one other unnamed player whose response came in late. (See SF Gets 6 Muni WiFi Bids.)

Vinson says an RFP review panel is now coming together to evaluate the proposals. The panel hopes to arrive at a finalist by early April, Vinson says, at which time negotiations over financial terms would commence.

Google and EarthLink estimate that the San Francisco network could be built in six to 10 months, barring any unforeseen problems.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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chip_mate 12/5/2012 | 4:05:17 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi What's the big deal?
Corpus Christi already has complete city WiFi coverage. So does Addison Texas.
What's the big deal here?
Unless the story is "SF FORGETS to ask for a % of the monthly take!" or "GOOG is too slick for City Council, Pockets 100% of Deal!"

What's the big deal here? So SF puts up some WiFi antennas. Wow. Wee. Looking to catch up to that powerhouse of Industry, Corpus Christi, are we? Ok, you showed them good.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:17 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi
I think a question would be, why would anybody sign up for the $20 per month service. It would seem to be the equivalent of AT&T's DSL service or Comcast's cable modem service. The base services for both of those company's is less than $20.

joeram 12/5/2012 | 4:05:17 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi First, I don't understand why Google has received so much top billing over the other companies that submitted proposals on this project. How did Google become the media's pet company?

But there is a very telling paragraph in this article - the Google/Earthlink team want to charge extra for higher bandwidth. Isn't this the same proposed concept for which the telcos are getting slammed, relative to their internet support?

I guess when Google has to spend capital on equipment, they are allowed to recover that investment. But if the telcos look to recover their investments, by charging Google, and the others that use that bandwidth, that is evil. I don't understand this.

The bottom line is this is a capital intensive industry, and it is not wrong, or evil, for companies to recover their investment. I would argue that people should be happy that there are companies taking the risk, rolling out the capital. These companies should be rewarded for taking that risk.
optodoofus 12/5/2012 | 4:05:16 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi joeram,

You've mixed up two concepts here. Google is looking to charge more for higher bandwidth. The ILECs are looking to charge more for QOS, not for higher bandwidth. I don't think anyone is complaining about the ILECs selling tiers of DSL service, with the lowest level having the lowest cost and higher bandwidth levels paying more. However, if I sign up for a 1 meg service, I object to the ILEC trying to make application providers pay more for QOS treatment for bandwidth delivered over that 1 meg service.

See the difference?

spelurker 12/5/2012 | 4:05:16 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi > joeram,
> You've mixed up two concepts here. Google is looking to charge more
> for higher bandwidth. The ILECs are looking to charge more for QOS,
> not for higher bandwidth.

Actually, joeram *didn't* mix up 2 different concepts. Google wants to charge differently for 2 different tiers of data service. The RBOCs want to charge differently for 2 different tiers of service.

> However, if I sign up for a 1 meg service, I object to the ILEC trying to make
> application providers pay more for QOS treatment for bandwidth delivered
> over that 1 meg service.

Really? Didn't that horse leave the barn 80 years ago? Content delivery services (Radio) deliver a service to your home, and charge the application vendors (commercial sponsors) to make their service available. They charge more for higher-quality programming. Broadcast video has been doing the same for 50 years.

Most of the people who I've seen complaining about the QOS offer have primarily been paranoid that their QOS would be impaired and that the RBOCs would use that to force people to pay unfair prices, or to make it prohibitively expensive to offer services which compete with the RBOC's own offering. I don't think that's a particularly reasonable fear (it's not as if there is no scrutiny into RBOC business practices) but that's been the primary argument presented in the media.

> See the difference?

No. Google (and 8x8, etc) is just complaining when something could cost them money, period. Don't be fooled into thinking there is some noble cause they are championing -- it's a business decision, pure and simple.
I.e. "X" costs us money, and opens us up to future price instability, therefore we must oppose "X" in whatever forum is most likely to be fruitful.

Mark Sullivan 12/5/2012 | 4:05:15 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Does Corpus Christi offer FREE WiFi access? The San Francisco project is getting the attention because its the trial run of a completely new business model for serving up broadband. The access is provided for free -- supported only by targeted advertising from Google. This is potentially game-changing if it works, and could easily be replicated in other cities.
chip_mate 12/5/2012 | 4:05:14 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Here's the Corpus Christi website on WiFi:


Corpus isn't as big as SF, but does have almost 1M people, so I am baffled that Google offering WiFi with strings attached is so intriguing to LightReading.
Change what model Mark?
(don't mean to pick on you Mark, just don't get the fascination by LR to a Google business model in California, when Texas has already shown that their City Goverments are willing to give WiFi to citizens (and guests) with no strings attached)
chip_mate 12/5/2012 | 4:05:14 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Mark,
Yes, Corpus Christi offers FREE WiFi to anyone in or passing through the city.
So, again, what's the big deal about getting free WiFi in SF when you have to look at ads on your browser screen?
Sounds like SF is pretty right wing capitalistic and Corpus Christi is a tree huggers, free WiFi paradise! Maybe now all the kooks will move out of SF, down to Texas. :-)


It mentions FREE in this article (no, this site isn't my politics, I actually found this on Google....like, maybe a reporter friend of mine named, oh, Mark S., could've done before he questioned my earlier post... :-)

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:14 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

Why would this work when say Net Zero did not and eventually had to charge?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:14 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

I think there are two distinct issues, and one unadmitted to by Google.

If you buy a DSL service, say a 1.5M down/256K up, then there is no reason that you can not theoretically get a connection at that full rate to the Internet for any application. Given that the service is best effort, you may not get that rate. However, there should be no reason to clamp down on traffic if there is no network congestion.

If I buy a 3M down/1M up DSL service, the carrier ought to provide me approximately the same over subscription ratio as it does for all of its residential high speed internet customers. This would imply that the carrier might have to install more bandwidth to compensate for the customers ordering more bandwidth.

The Google offering is similar to this where there are two tiers of bit rates being "sold". One of these costs $0 and one of them costs $20. I have a cable modem and they offer two bit pipe rates at two different prices.

The question comes in when a service like Lightspeed gets deployed. As SBC will be using IP QoS to send video traffic at a higher priority than high speed internet, there is a inherent potential conflict. If the oversubscription ratio provided to customers for Lightspeed High Speed internet is the same or lower than that for standard DSL, then I think there is no argument. This oversubscription ratio is not apparent in the sale of the service to the customer, nor are there any guarantees around it.

There is a number of spurious messages here about having Public Internet QoS. There is no way to guarantee this so, I can not imagine how there would be compensation for it. The only way to make this work would be a direct connection (like peering) between say Google and AT&T. Then a business proposition could be set up for the exchange of money for amounts of traffic communicated with a QoS other than Best Effort.

The counter to this is that some people are using their service more than others. Meaning for some reason (P2P is typically the root cause), some users want to use the bit pipe they are paying for at a higher percentage than others. Because of this, carriers now want to penalize those applications and users that tend to utilize what they paid for. I feel that is wrong. I would summarize this as follows:

I paid for a connection to the Internet and I expect to be able to utilize that link 100% of the time. I will be attempting to transmit at the maximum rate 100% of the time.

Given current broadband costs and prices, the value of the connections is not high for the bit pipe provider unless the pipes are used sparingly.

On the other hand, trying to sell services that require a "good" Internet connection is not going to be a business that does well. I am not sure why for most people that Vonage is a better deal than a Cell Phone. Both offer low cost calls including potentially unlimited calling (which of course is a misnomer as well).

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