Google offers free WiFi to San Francisco

Google has offered to provide the city of San Francisco with blanket wireless Internet coverage – for free. This not only means free to the people who use it, but most attractively, free to the taxpayers of San Francisco.

The surprise move is another signal that the company intends to be much more than a search engine and provider of information – lucrative as it is. Combined with its recent launch of Google Talk, its IM product with VoIP included, it would appear that the company wants to have a stake in all the areas of Internet communications.

Although Google has no track record of running a wireless network, the bid has raised fears that the company merely intends to use the San Francisco bid as a road test. Competitors fear that Google has long-term intentions of providing a network of wireless coverage throughout major cities in the US.

While the proposed service of 300kps is not cutting edge by today’s standards, presumably the data speeds will increase once the service has bedded in.

It announced an embryonic trial of a free wireless service only last week – Google trials free WiFi service.

If Google can make a free service to the residents of San Francisco pay, either through adding value added services or though close integration with Google Local or AdWords, it will have a profound effect on the development of wireless services throughout the world.

In August, San Francisco’s Mayor Newsom invited companies to tender for the proposal to provide a wireless service that would cover the entire city. It is thought around a dozen companies have submitted tenders. In a flourish typical of the company, the 100-page Google bid arrived only minutes before the deadline on Friday.

Last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom said he wanted the city to be the most wired – or in this case wireless – in the United States. The aim is not merely to demonstrate that San Francisco retains its position as a world centre for high technology, but also to provide Internet access to the digital have nots who may not be able to afford the monthly subscription charges of the likes of AOL.

Analysts have estimated that the project to provide the 49 square miles of San Francisco will cost around $10 million to $18 million, which is nothing to a company with the size and ambitions of Google.

The city is engaged in a bid to become the world’s first such wireless city. Others in the race include Taiwan’s capital Taipei, New York, Amsterdam and San Jose – Taipei aims to be world’s first fully WiFi city

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