San Fran Taps Ruckus to Unwire its Outdoors

Light Reading
Date: December 16, 2013

The City of San Francisco isn’t waiting for cable or wireless operators to bring WiFi to its corridors. Instead, it is teaming up with Ruckus Wireless to start the process on its own.

Carrier WiFi specialist Ruckus Wireless Inc. (NYSE: RKUS) announced Monday that it has partnered with the City and County of San Francisco to bring free public WiFi access up and down the busy Market Street corridor, from the intersection of Market and Castro down to the Ferry building and eventually all the way through San Francisco’s Embarcadero. This is one of the first steps in the city’s plan to blanket the city in WiFi.

According to San Francisco CIO Marc Touitou, Ruckus is providing the City with 170 to 200 access points (APs), free of charge, a donation worth around $700,000. It will mount the 802.11n APs on traffic poles with fiber backbone connections providing dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz service to visitors. In areas where the fiber can’t reach, Ruckus’ SmartMesh Networking technology is being used to provide wireless connections between the APs.

This isn’t San Francisco’s first WiFi initiative. According to Devicescape Software Inc. , 47% of San Franciscan businesses offer free WiFi, making it one of the most accessible cities, and 46% of the city’s top 100 attractions already have WiFi available. The City also has a deal in place with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to equip 31 of its parks with connectivity, but Touitou says the City hasn’t yet picked its vendors for that project yet. (See WiFi Wars: San Fran Trumps NYC.)

On Market street, WiFi is being offered free of charge — Toutiou says the aim is not to make money from the service. But he did hint at future services that go beyond public access. And he’s open to letting the wireless operators tap into his network, rather than vice versa. He told Light Reading that one option he’s exploring is letting wireless operators use San Francisco’s WiFi network for their own offload. But, he stressed, the city hasn’t reached a conclusion yet.

“It would help them alleviate the problem of capacity, and they are willing to put money in the bucket to help cities deploy infrastructure,” he said. “But, right now, we’re leveraging our city to deploy this.”

Public-private partnerships for WiFi haven’t always worked out in the past, but Toutiou is confident this one will in San Francisco, where the residents tend to be technologically savvy and value connectivity. He said the support from Ruckus’s top-level executives has made a big difference, as has the City’s commitment to building a collaborative, connected city.

“Earthlink is an example of stuff we don’t want to do,” he said, referring to the ISP’s failed muni-WiFi project in Philadelphia in 2008. “There is a smart business model between cities and the private sector where we can help each other.”

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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