AnchorFree has built hotzones in the Bay Area and has built a marketing and branding program for free locations: Until seeing the press release yesterday about their acquisition of MetroFreeFi.com, an exhaustive directory of free locations built by feet-on-the-street, I was unaware of the second part of AnchorFree's plans. The release claims 10,000 locations in the AnchorFree network, and I grilled the firm's president about those numbers.
David Gorodyansky, the president and co-founder, said that AnchorFree or MetroFreeFi has spoken with every free hotspot listed in their network, and gotten their approval for the listing. About half the locations are displaying marketing materials, or use AnchorFree splash screens and authentication. he said. Gorodyansky said AnchorFree shares advertising revenue with locations that participate in displaying ads. "We're in constant contact with them, they have been validated that they're real," he said.
I did a spot check in Seattle of locations I have personal knowledge of, where I know the owners or have interviewed them, or where I've been recently. I can say out of a few dozen locations I've stepped foot in in the last few weeks, I haven't seen any AnchorFree branding and I'm positive that none of the locations that I know would agree to anything beyond being listed in a directory. AnchorFree is offering a directory with ambitions. I invite Wi-Fi Networking News readers to do some local checking, as it's possible that Seattle is an odd case.
Glancing through Seattle, I see King County Library branches, Zoka (fiercely independent), Fremont Coffee (ditto), Victrola (home of weekend no-Fi), Seattle's Central Library, and the University Village QFC supermarket (which has a large "sponsored by" sign for a local cable company when I was there last week). In Columbus, Ohio, they're listing Panera Bread, which has its own national branding and network. Examples of this kind abound elsewhere.
Clearly, however, many locations in their directory do have some kind of direct relationship. In these cases, a Member badge is displayed and even a network status indicator.
Another claim I found problematic in the press release was that all AnchorFree-listed locations had 5 Mbps of downstream bandwidth. Gorodyansky said in the interview that the upstream speed needed to be at least 768 Kbps. When pressed, Gorodyansky confirmed that speed had not been checked on site, but rather prospective locations are told that 5M/768K is the minimum speed required.
That speed is only available in certain parts of certain cities, sometimes via cable, sometimes via DSL, occasionally via both. I have strong doubts that 10,000 free Wi-Fi locations actually offer those speeds, regardless of what they've told AnchorFree or how it validates these locations for bandwidth.
I don't doubt that AnchorFree has good intentions, but despite Gorodyansky's statements of validation, I'm afraid they are making the same mistakes that other directories and aggregators have when they initially tried to list free locations as part of their network. MetroFreeFi has always found high-quality locations and certainly has the most comprehensive list of free hotspots available. (I can't compare number-for-number with Jim Sullivan's excellent effort at Wi-Fi Free Spot, but a spot check shows somewhat more at AnchorFree than his site in the cities I'm checking.)
But AnchorFree appears to be making a claim more like AMD's of a few years ago--one that AMD eventually walked away from. Claiming a network requires more than having a directory.