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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OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 4:05:01 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Which one of those wireless companies do you give access to the city's lightpoles and power too?


BTW I have a router/radio on almost every other pole in my neighborhood just to get some coverage. Coverage is still poor in some neighborhood places. They may have to erect more poles. But this is a city project.
laserbrain2 12/5/2012 | 4:05:01 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi oh I forgot. This is san francisco. People would complain that the homeless are being descriminated against.
laserbrain2 12/5/2012 | 4:05:01 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Why on earth would a city grant a contract to only one wireless provider?

It's not like you have to dig up the streets in front of every home. So why not let 10 companies go do it?

Why not say, Our city is open to any company who wants to provide wireless access. Knock yourself out. We'll stay out of your way.

Giving one contract is a recipe for the great service of the cable or power or pots companies. stupid.
telco1158 12/5/2012 | 4:05:05 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi As far as business access, back in the mid 90s when a DS3 pipe to the Internet was a big deal, one of our tier 1 providers claimed to offer a full pipe of throughput all the time. In fact, the words "burst" ever appeared in the contract. I never recall a problem with sustained access up to the full port speed, which was about two hops away from their edge router. Pricing was rather simple in those days. The contract itself was about five pages total. We got what was marketed to us, and generally we paid what we expected.

Not so today. The marketing of Internet access, the contracted rate(s)/service level agreements, the sustained/bursted throughput, and the actual invoice all share a precarious relationship. My finance and contracting people get a tizzy any time I asked them for details. This was not always the case. But then again, access to a tier 1 was a ton more expensive in those days. I guess we got what we paid through the nose for.
stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 4:05:06 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Seven,

I am not saying that you should not get what you pay for, on the contrary, I feel that if you are not getting what you pay for you should take whatever action makes the most sense, legally. I am only stressing that we all need to understand exactly what it is that we have paid for with our network access. In this respect it is also good to be able to guage your usage so that you aren't leaving too much cash on the table every month.

With regards to chip's test suggestion, it is always a good thing to have independent third party confirmation/contradiction of the marketing hype. If the result is confirmation then the marketing is real, if it is contradiction, it is hype and should be exposed.

I have been involved in many network test scenarios. To be fair and relevant to your situation the testing has to be done in a way that closely mirrors your situation. In network testing there are very few apples-to-apples comparisons that make sense to the residential user. The traffic types/rates/times of day/etc., vary all over the map. You can come up with what you feel is an average but the standard dev. will be huge.

The best way that I have found to analyze network throughput is to look at how the individual elements are provisioned (policing policies, queue sizes, max throughput under lab conditions, etc.) and see if it makes sense with the specific traffic profile of interest. Basically model it, extrapolate it across best and worst case scanarios and see if the theoretical model meets the reality. If not figure out what is wrong and understand where you intuitively feel the answer should be.

stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 4:05:08 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Seven,

I'm not sure how a false advertising suit would go against a carrier. I am reasonably sure that the carrier lawyers, who put together the standard subscriber agreements, have a grasp on the technical implications as well as the potential for those suits and do what they can to minimize the exposure.

They often obscure the issue by saying things like "you can achieve communications rates up to xMB/s". In my experience they often have a paragraph somewhere near the front of the agreement that defines the "service" and what it may or may not provide, guarantees (usually none for a DSL service), etc. From that point onwards in the document they can just say "the service" which applies back to that previous definition. As long as they can show that, if you are the only person in your neighbourhood who has not been affected by a power outage, you can theoretically reach those data rates, they are generally covered (legally). Of course the purpose of marketing is not to emphasize the legal stuff but to attract more customers to the "service" in as simple a manner as possible.

When I hear the words "up to" such and such I have become very cynical of ever reaching such & such. From your comments it sounds like you have perhaps been burned by this somehow...?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:08 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

No, I have not been burned. I am happy with my cable modem.

Your commentary is that it is perfectly acceptable for the restriction of offered load towards the Internet. I am not expecting an connection that offers me the 100% throughput under all conditions but I do believe the following is true:

- I should be able to use my connection 24/7. The entire idea of "always on" is always on.
- My data packets should not be penalized by my use during off peak times.
- My data packets should not be penalized by destination.
- My data packets should not be penalized by application.
- I should receive similar performance to all of those that I share the network with, who have the same service.

I don't expect 100% throughput. I do not expect my packets to be treated better than any other packet.

I agree with chip that a test of several Internet connections is an interesting test for Light Reading to do. This could give us some idea of the relative merit of the offering. I would also like the FCC or PUCs to ask companies to specify their oversubscription ratios. This is a reasonable way to get an idea of average throughput.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:10 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

Yes, I know it is silly. I also recognize sarcasm. Yes, I know the game that is being played. I am actually okay with the game to a certain point. I expect my connection to be oversubscribed. I agree that this ought to be a published and testable phenomenon, as it would give us some objective idea of whose service is actually better.

See, I actually think paying for QoS is okay. It is just I think there ought to be truth in advertising.

chip_mate 12/5/2012 | 4:05:10 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi Brookseven,
You seem intelligent. I know you are. Your statement:
"So, are you saying that I am being deliberately defrauded?"

is sort of silly. If you DARE to maintain your maximum bitrate that is in your contract, you will be shut down immediately.

What the providers of high speed internet connections understand you want to do is BURST ocassionaly to your 1.5megs/sec limit.

If you dared to sustain 1.5 megs/second you will be shut down.
Come on, you know how the game is played. Don't ask silly questions.

Hey LR, why don't you buy 6 high speed connections, all from the same provider and run high speed ping tests for as long as you're allowed to. Do it anonymously, elst you lose all future ad revenue from these guys.

Let us know how many hours before you get your service shut down.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:05:10 AM
re: Google, EarthLink Team for SF WiFi

So, are you saying that I am being deliberately defrauded?

If the sales information does not match the reality of the service....get the point.

It doesn't matter if this is a bad deal for the carrier, they should offer a deal that is good for them. Today, that is not the offer I have.

If offer the maximum port rate = if I transmit as many bit per second as my connection will allow. I did not say that I successfully transmit all that data. But I should be able to download continuously at the maximum rate and upload at the maximum rate at a physical port level. Once congestion occurs, then I should receive the equivalent number of bits per second as anyone else with the same kind of connection.

Are you saying I should be penalized for using the connection that I am paying for?

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