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San Francisco begins offering free public Wi-Fi

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 12:59pm
Brian Santo

After a series of fits and starts, San Francisco has begun to offer free, high-speed public Wi-Fi service on a three-mile stretch along one of the city’s major thoroughfares, Market Street.

The City and County of San Francisco own and operate the system. Ruckus Wireless donated some of the Wi-Fi hardware, while Layer42 Networks donated access to its gigabit backbone. Ruckus estimates that this is now the single most extensive municipal Wi-Fi network in the U.S., and San Francisco has plans to expand access to other public areas.  

San Francisco’s new free public Wi-Fi service is named San Francisco Free WiFi, which is also the service’s SSID.

In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed that San Francisco would provide widespread public Wi-Fi access, but those plans never materialized. In more recent years, San Francisco had first attempted to work with AT&T in 2012 and subsequently with EarthLink to set up networks, but both of those projects likewise fell through. Municipal Wi-Fi schemes have been tried by cities across the U.S., but have often been undermined by some combination of insufficient speeds, spotty access, user aversion to ad-supported models, and hostility from both commercial service providers and free market adherents.

San Francisco kept at it, however. Marc Touitou, San Francisco 's chief information officer, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It was simpler, faster, better to do it on our own. The quality is higher, with the technical design by the Department of Technology. We wanted high capacity. ... We wanted it to be cool – no strings attached, no ads."

“With the explosive growth of the mobile Internet and mobile Internet applications, high-speed Wi-Fi access is now viewed as a non-negotiable utility. We are proud to have been chosen as the foundation and technology provider for delivering such a valuable service to the City of San Francisco.”

Ruckus said it has mounted its ZoneFlex 7782-S outdoor access points to traffic poles along the route. The APs provide dual-band (2.4- and 5 GHz) Wi-Fi service to users along Market Street. In locations where fiber backhaul to the Ruckus access points is prohibitive, Ruckus has deployed its smart mesh networking technology to provide wireless connections between access points.

The City has installed Ruckus SmartCell Gateways to aggregate traffic and provide centralized management of the Wi-Fi infrastructure.

 “Because San Francisco is at the world’s epicenter of technology innovation and use, residents, visitors and even businesses now have a fundamental expectation for pervasive wireless connectivity,” said Mayor Edwin M. Lee. “We have gone to great lengths to build the foundation to deliver on these expectations with the best Wi-Fi technology we could find right in our own backyard.”

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