SF’s free public Wi-Fi is not very popular 

click to enlarge Washington Square Park is one of the places The City’s free Wi-Fi service is available. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. examiner file photo
  • Washington Square Park is one of the places The City’s free Wi-Fi service is available.

With major tech companies Twitter, Uber and Square placing their headquarters on Market Street, San Francisco has succeeded in making its main thoroughfare a tech hub.

Now The City is working to make sure its citizens know Market Street is also the home of free Wi-Fi.

Since 2013, Wi-Fi can be accessed for free along Market Street from Castro Street to The Embarcadero through #SFWiFi. Last fall, a $608,000 donation from Google allowed The City to blanket another 31 public spaces with free signals.

But so far, residents and visitors have been slow to log on.

As of December, the network averaged 314,000 weekly log-in sessions from mobile phone and computer users, according to the Department of Technology, which manages the #SFWiFi network. There is no data available on individual uses of the free network. A session is logged whenever a device connects, which could be multiple times per device per day.

Download speeds average between 10 and 15 megabits per second, which is in line with the industry average, according to the Department of Technology.

Regardless of how many users are streaming YouTube videos or tweeting photos on San Francisco's dime, they are not straining the network.

Daily data use averages 100 megabits per day, or 10 percent of the #SFWiFi network's gigabit capacity, said Ron Vinson, the Department of Technology's chief marketing officer.

To attract more users, San Francisco is seeking "creative ways to promote the network on Market Street," said Vinson, adding that signage advertising this "public resource" could soon appear in public spaces and along Market Street.

"Now that we are confident that the network is robust ... we can work on awareness," Vinson said.

The Wi-Fi only works outdoors and only on the surface. The Market Street access points are not strong enough to provide a signal for riders on Muni or BART. Public transit is currently a Wi-Fi-free zone, after BART recently canceled its Wi-Fi agreement with a private company. #SFWiFi could see a user boost once renovations to Dolores Park are completed, which is expected sometime in the first half of this year.

The popular Mission park, which is known to be frequented by tech icons like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the average smartphone- and tablet-toting Joes, will have its #SFWiFi signal activated once the park is ready, Vinson said.

The City also offers free Wi-Fi in its libraries and public housing on different networks, but covers only a small part (3.1 miles) of San Francisco's roughly 47 square miles.

Setting up #SFWiFi has cost $1.8 million to date, according to the Committee on Information Technology.

Find #SFWiFi

- Any Internet user can log on to San Francisco's free Wi-Fi service by looking for the #SFWiFi network on their smartphone, tablet or laptop.

- To find out more and see a map of available access points, visit www6.sfgov.org/index.aspx?page=246

Note: As with any free and open Wi-Fi network, users should be cautious using personal and financial information while accessing #SFWiFi.

Source: Department of Technology

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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