MetroFi Wins Portland Muni WiFi
MetroFi will act as the main contractor and integrator for the new network, and will bankroll the estimated $10 million cost. Portland residents and visitors will get access to 1 Mbit/s of Internet access, more than the 300 Kbit/s of free access San Francisco’s Wi-Fi network will offer. (See EarthLink Wins 2nd Muni WiFi.)
MetroFi’s bid won out against bids from EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK), VeriLAN Inc. , MobilePro Corp. , and US Internet Corp. City officials took note that MetroFi already operates a similar contiguous network in Santa Clara, Cupertino, and Sunnyvale, California, according to Portland’s Chief Technology Officer Matt Lampe.
MetroFi also will pay the city rights-of-way fees to install wireless gear on light poles and city buildings. The company hopes to make back its investment through sales of targeted Internet ads and by selling higher ad-free tiers and more secure access.
“One of the costs they avoid is the massive customer acquisition costs through advertising which is a huge cost for any new provider trying to walk in and win new customers,” Lampe says.
MetroFi CEO Chuck Haas says his company will target home dial-up users in Portland first. The company expects to make most of its money from selling the ads that users of the free service will see.
According to Haas, MetroFi will use 2,000 access points to achieve 95 percent coverage over Portland’s 134 square miles. Lampe and Haas say externally mounted CPE devices may be needed to enhance indoor access to the network.
MetroFi will partner with several subcontractors to provide the network equipment for the Portland network. Haas says his company will use SkyPilot Networks Inc. mesh access points mounted on light poles throughout Portland. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) routers and Ethernet switches will be used in the core network. DragonWave Inc. (AIM/Toronto: DWI; Nasdaq: DRWI) will provide the microwave equipment that will be mounted on tall building for the wireless backhaul. (See SkyPilot Finds Muni Landing Strip.)
The network will connect with two carrier-neutral points of presence (POPs) in downtown Portland, Haas explains. Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) or Cogent Communications Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: CCOI) will be used to connect to the Internet backbone, Haas says.
EarthLink spokesman Jerry Grasso says his company approached Portland with a bid very similar to its winning bid (with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)) for San Francisco’s Wi-Fi network. Google was not involved in the Portland bid, Grasso reports, so there was no free, ad-driven tier of service in Earthlink's bid. Grasso says that ended up being the deal breaker for his company in Portland.
Now that MetroFi has won the Portland bid, it will enter negotiations with the city to hammer out a contract. Lampe says the city expects the network to be built in 24 months from the time the contract is signed. MetroFi's Haas says his company plans on finishing the network by the end of 2007, or six months early.
The city will use the network for such things as emergency communications and for hooking up intelligent parking meters. It will pay nothing for the network, and expects to save millions in communications costs by using it.
Portland is the 28th largest city in the U.S with a population of approximately 540,000.
Lampe says Portland is now on the cutting edge of municipal WiFi deployments, and expects to learn lessons that will benefit other cities. “There’s a lot we will all learn as we try to bring these things up, and frankly I don’t think anybody can really say whether the subscription-based model really works to support one of these networks, or that the ad-based one works, or in what context the service might be used to make it most valuable.”
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading