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WiFi Wars: San Fran Trumps NYC

Sarah Thomas
9/26/2013

San Francisco can add one more bragging point in the battle of the coasts: more pervasive and open WiFi, according to a new study from Devicescape.

WiFi vendor Devicescape Software Inc. curates what it calls "amenity" WiFi hotspots -- free public access points in bars, retail outlets, and other venues, which also lets it keep an eye on more than 250 million hotspots. In a recent study of those APs using data from its Curator Service Platform and from clients directly on "tens of millions" of consumer devices, the WiFi provider took a look at the status of networks in San Francisco versus NYC.

The results suggest that indoor WiFi is, on average, more than twice as prevalent in the West coast city versus the East coast city. Forty-seven percent of businesses in San Fran offer WiFi compared with 23 percent in NYC. The differences are greatest in retail stores, with 39 percent of stores in San Fran offering it as opposed to only 9 percent in NYC.

Much like the people, WiFi in San Fran is also a lot more easygoing than in NYC. Of public WiFi hotspots, 54 percent of those in San Fran don't require a password, while only 41 percent of NYC's are unprotected, according to Devicescape.

What's more, 86 percent of San Fran chains and 41 percent of independents have open WiFi, meaning users only need to click and accept terms on a portal versus enter a password on a private network. In NYC, 81 percent of chains and 36 percent of independents also employed the open model.

San Fran vs. NYC
Source: Devicescape
Source: Devicescape

Why this matters
San Fran and NYC are two good markets to study when it comes to WiFi. For one thing, when the iPhone first overloaded AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s cellular network in 2007, these two cities were hit the hardest. They are both major metro areas populated with tech-savvy, data-heavy mobile users. In an age where WiFi is as important as coffee or beer to a lot of people, these are cities that operators want to focus on as part of their carrier WiFi strategies.

The good news here is that where carriers have the biggest play, in public WiFi, both cities are faring well. As Devicescape notes, both have aggressive plans to expand public WiFi in parks and other outdoor spaces. At the top 100 major attractions in each city, WiFi was available in 46 percent in San Fran and 45 percent in NYC.

These type of outdoor spaces have become a major focus for wireless operators and cable companies alike as they look for ways to offload traffic or create a mobile presence, respectively.

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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
10/1/2013 | 2:22:55 PM
Re: Same deduction from crowd-sourced database
Thanks for sharing this, Akash! Really interesting, especially to see what APs are most dominant, since some companies make you do the guesswork on your own (ahem, Starbucks). Would love to see more of your visualizations. Shoot me an email at [email protected] Thanks!
Akash Baid
Akash Baid
10/1/2013 | 2:19:39 PM
Same deduction from crowd-sourced database
As part of a research project, we analyzed the AP densities in different cities by making API calls to the WiGLE.net database (arguably the biggest crowdsourced Wi-Fi AP database in existence). 

What we saw is that San Fran overtook NYC around April 2012 in terms of the density of deployment. We made a primitive visualization to show how the numbers evolved over the years: http://www.winlab.rutgers.edu/~baid/apViz.html

Interestingly, we can also estimate the relative share of different vendors based on the WiGLE dataset. We found, for example, that the ranking of providers in terms of number of observed APs is 1) Motorola, 2) Ruckus, 3) Cisco in San Fran and 1) Cisco, 2) Aruba, 3) Ruckus in NYC !

We can do a more thorough visuzlization covering more cities if there is interest in this.
albreznick
albreznick
9/26/2013 | 5:28:00 PM
Monetizing WiFi
So, Sarah, if they're not charging for WiFi access, are SPs, retailers, stadia and the like finding any other ways to make money off it? Or will it remain a totally free service for the masses?
albreznick
albreznick
9/26/2013 | 5:23:32 PM
Re: Apples and ostriches
But there's no match for NY pizza, bagels and Jewish deli food, Sarah. SF doesn't hold a candle to NYC there. Nor does any other city I know of.  
mendyk
mendyk
9/26/2013 | 11:47:04 AM
Re: Apples and ostriches
You forgot Rice-a-Roni and smelly harbor seals. NYC can't match SF on either of those metrics. But there must be some reason that NYC's population is an order of magnitude higher than SF's.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
9/26/2013 | 11:39:04 AM
Re: And the Midwest?
Carol, I think that is definitely the goal. But I haven't seen it yet.

Even sign-on screens can be enough to keep people on cellular, I think, especially at places you aren't at for very long. Where it's most important is places you stay put for awhile like coffee shops, parks, and stadiums. I wonder if we'll see the carriers emphasize indoor much going forward. If they do, it'll probably be for the opportunities you mentioned. 
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
9/26/2013 | 11:36:52 AM
Re: Apples and ostriches
San Fran already has better coffee, Mexican food, and access to wine/mountains/Apple. You can't let it beat you on WiFi too.
mendyk
mendyk
9/26/2013 | 10:52:33 AM
Apples and ostriches
We won't rest until every bodega, Duane Reade, and Tad's Steaks offers free and open WiFi to Manhattanites.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson
9/26/2013 | 10:39:16 AM
And the Midwest?
I'm guessing Chicago trails both cities substantially, although we are struggling to catch up. 

It's interesting to see how many retailers and others are letting folks use the WiFi free-of-charge with little or no security, just based on terms acceptance. Is there any tracking of how many people actually go from store to store, hopping from WiFi net to WiFi net? Do you know if any of the retailers are also pushing ads with their WiFi or other "shopping aids?"
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