5 Years For Nation Wide WiFi

In five years, most major metros and suburbs will have ubiquitous Wi-Fi based broadband coverage says Chuck Haas, the co-founder and chief executive officer of MetroFi, a Mountain View, Calif.,-based start-up that is rolling out metro wireless networks. He thinks most metros and suburban areas in the US will be WiFi hot-zones, by end of the decade.
Chuck, made this remarks during a panel discussion today at The Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down on Local (Search) conference down in San Jose earlier today. The panel pondered the big question – Is The Broadband Juggernaut: Slowing Down or Speeding Up? Hass, was on this panel alongside Brian Jurutka from research firm comScore, David Payne of EarthLink Municipal Networks and your truly.

Payne agreed on the promise of WiFi but refrained from putting a timeline on the national hot zone availablity. “I think the technology is here, but the problems are more analog, getting people to build these networks,” Haas said, who in his previous incarnation was one of the cofounders of Covad, an early entrant into the DSL business. Haas believes that the an ad-supported access model will work in the case of WiFi based metro broadband offerings, primarily because the cost of deploying the networks is so low. According to some estimates, it costs about $10 million to unwire a big city like Philadelphia.
This is the primary mode of monetization for Google, which has just published key patents that help the search giant monetize the wireless nets more effectively.

Patent application No. 20060058019 seeks to develop a system for dynamically modifying the appearance of browser screens on a client device when connecting to a wireless access point. Under the patent, the browser’s appearance would be modified to reflect the brand associated with the wireless access-point provider. The patent application says that Wi-Fi Internet access would be provided freely to customers in exchange for their agreement to receiving ads on their devices.

If you circle back to my Business 2.0 story, The Google Net, this is precisely how the network was going to be monetized. Instead of using Feeva’s technology, well they seem to be building their own.

….. which can determine the location of every Wi-Fi user and would allow Google to serve up advertising and maps based on real-time data.

Ad supported access is not something new. Even today, Yahoo which has partnered with folks like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, kicks some share of the advertising dollars to its access partners. Free, however, is the Google mantra.
MetroFi is chanting that chant as well. “I think lot of people forget that there are a lot of local free newspapers which are jam packed with advertisements,” says Haas. “In comparison to those guys, our fixed costs are really really low.” But that is if they can build out a big enough sales force to sell ads on a local basis, but I think Chuck is onto something. What if he cut one of the newspaper chains into the action, and teamed up with them for local ad sales. They know local ads, MetroFi knows network operations, and well it could work out for both parties.
On the technology front, however, things are getting even more interesting. Only today I checked out Loki, a new offering that marries local services with Skyhook’s WiFi Positioning System. Being a broadband enthusiast of sorts, I applaud these recent developments. Still, I think Chuck and others are being too optimistic about the timeline. I think we are long ways off from relatively reliable connectivity via Wi-Fi. The wifi devices are still not ready for prime-time and are power guzzlers. While, readers of this blog are likely to be early users of these free metro WiFi networks, I wonder if mom would use it?