Google Confirms Free San Francisco WiFi Plans

Google is making a bid to build a San Francisco-wide free wifi network, according to company officials. The company today filed documents in response to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request for information for the city wide network. Google’s WiFi plans were first reported by Business 2.0 magazine as part of the GoogleNet article. The company says if its bid is approved, then it is willing to start the work on the network within weeks.

Google officials say San Francisco residents (and visitors) will enjoy a free 300 kilobits per second, always on connection anywhere in the city. As part of its proposal, the company says it will be offering wholesale access to other service providers, who will offer higher throughput connections to their customers. Google says it plans to use its own authentication services. (That explains the Google WiFi VPN client to some extent). The company is going to use San Diego-based WFI, a cellular network builder company to build out the WiFi network.

The company proposes to build a network using third party hardware. Google officials say, its free WiFi plans are restricted only to San Francisco. The company does offer free wifi access in Mountain View and New York’s Bryant Park.

“San Francisco will be a true test bed for location based services and applications,” says Chris Sacca, principal of new business development at Google. While the initial use of location-based services might be limited to more-focussed and targeted advertising, the potential of location-based services is immense, officials said. Sacca pointed out that the network bid was in line with Google’s thinking on delivering answers anytime anywhere to anyone, and looking beyond a desktop PC.

When asked if this puts the company in direct conflict with incumbents like SBC and Comcast, Sacca replied, “I think a few months ago, we might have thought that, but we have talked to them and it seems the thinking is evolving amongst other last mile providers.”

I wonder how it impacts others who want to get involved with the muniwireless space? The Google Talk implications on a free network are quite far reaching, if you ask me, but then that’s just me.