MetroFi enters its second phase of coverage of the City of Roses: Portland, Oregon's free-with-ads Wi-Fi network expands into Old Town, the Pearl District, Portland State University's area, and Southeast Portland over the next four months. The Pearl District is better known as "the part of town that Powell's Books built." The initial rollout covered about 5 percent of the city. MetroFi said that 17,000 hours were spent online during December by 3,000 uniquely registered users. Registration is required for network use. The network should be complete by mid-2008.
A related phase of MetroFi's revenue model has just started, too, The Oregonian reports. A city office in Northwest Portland will begin paying "less than $200 a month" for a wireless link. Selling high-speed dedicated links to city offices and businesses is a key part of EarthLink's model, but I haven't heard MetroFi mention it much.
An article in the Portland Tribune seems to take MetroFi to task for its current coverage area and the cost of the bridge generally needed to connect indoors--the paper says that the city was saying $50 to $80, but MetroFi's recommended bridge is $120. It's pretty anecdotal. That doesn't mean it's not true, but I'd be curious to see if someone performs an extensive wardrive in the covered areas. You can always find people who won't get coverage, especially with such a small area deployed; it's much harder to find people who are perfectly satisfied.
Also, Michael Weinberg, the fellow quoted in the lead of the Tribune article, is heavily involved in Personal Telco, the veteran community wireless group in that city. While not in competition with MetroFi, Personal Telco had argued for a different plan for the citywide network--not one that they would profit from, let me note, but one that focused more on community than a private operator. That fact should have been noted by the reporter. His points, however, are still well taken. Paying $120 for a "free" service, even as a one-time fee, has apparently not been well explained. This has bitten other early metro-scale Wi-Fi projects, too, where "free" or "ubiquitous" weren't necessarily coupled with "paid bridge."
Adam Boettiger, a colleague of mine from long ago, is pictured in the article's opening. He's got an Apple laptop there, and if it's a Core 2 Duo, I'll be curious whether he gets better indoor reception when the 802.11n enabler from Apple ships in February. The enabler will allow many existing Macs to suddenly have N features, which should add better receive sensitivity and transmit power when both radios in the 802.11n chips are turned on.