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Google brings public Wi-Fi to New York neighborhood as mobile Internet use grows

Google is providing free public Wi-Fi in New York City?s Chelsea neighborhood, a move that will support the community and open up opportunities for marketers to reach residents and visitors to the area.

As the largest, contiguous Wi-Fi network in NYC, it will provide consumers in the area free access Internet access and help establish the city as a major digital center. As smartphone and tablet penetration grows, free public Wi-Fi is playing an important role in how users access the Internet while on the go.

?The use of public Wi-Fi networks has increased immensely - worldwide public Wi-Fi locations continued to grow in the third quarter of 2012, with a quarterly growth of 4.8 percent from Q2 2012 to Q3 2012 and an annual growth of 19.2 percent from Q4 2011 to Q3 2012,? said David Staas, president at location-based advertising company JiWire, San Francisco.

?We believe it will continue to grow and become a necessary commodity in major city buildings, airports, restaurants/cafes and venues across the country,? he said. ?Consumer demand for free, high speed, on-the-go Internet connections is growing rapidly as mobile devices continue to increase and the number of public hotspots expands.

?Industry research - including JiWire?s Q3 Insights report - overwhelmingly demonstrates that Wi-Fi is now the preferred free-access technology for mobile devices when consumers are on-the-go.?

Mr. Staas is not affiliated with Google and spoke based on his experience in mobile.

Google declined to comment for this story.

Community support
As the Internet becomes more important to activities such as finding a job or education, the free Wi-Fi network will benefit the Chelsea community. For example, community-based social services organization Hudson Guild will use the network as a teaching resource for children, a tool to connect older adults and to stay in touch with working parents.

The Wi-Fi network could also open up opportunities for marketers to reach mobile users, including with offers for local businesses.

Brands are increasingly leveraging Wi-Fi networks to reach mobile users with marketing messages. For example, JiWire works with brands such as British Airways, Comcast, Hyatt and Microsoft to deliver ads in exchange for free access to Wi-Fi in locations such as airports.

Google has been testing the Wi-Fi space for some time via Google Offers, which sponsored free Wi-Fi access at six NYC subway stations and various hot zones around the city this summer via a partnership with Boingo (see story).

A digital city
The Chelsea Wi-Fi network encompasses an area between Gansevoort St. and 19th St. from 8th Ave. to the West Side Highway.

The network will bring free Internet access to the more than 2,000 residents of the Fulton Houses housing project, the over 5,000 students in the neighborhood as well as the numerous workers, retail customers and tourists who visit the area.

Universal high-speed Internet access is part of NYC Mayor Bloomberg?s vision of making the city the world?s leading digital city. Chelsea is the first wired neighborhood in the city.

Google is partnering with The Chelsea Improvement Co. to provide the free public Wi-Fi. The network was designed and installed by Sky-Packets.

The growing penetration of tablets is another reason for the growing interest in public Wi-Fi.

?Tablet usage increased across all major Wi-Fi venues, with more than one third of connections at universities and hotels occur on tablets, with 44 percent and 39 percent respectively,? Mr. Staas said.

?Tablets represent about one fifth of Wi-Fi connections at malls, libraries, and cafés,? he said.