San Francisco Bay gets Wi-Fi service

Sunrise Wireless has deployed a Wi-Fi network across the San Francisco Bay making it the largest marine broadband network in the United States. Passengers on ferries that regularly cross the Bay can now get Wi-Fi access on their laptops and portable devices. Initially Wi-Fi service will be free of charge. Sunrise has deployed a network that uses a combination of Proxim’s point-to-point wireless backhaul, license-free WiMAX, and Wi-Fi access points.

The system, called SFOWetNet is designed to service all users of the Bay — from the researcher in a small boat collecting marine samples to the commuter traveling to work at 40 mph in the comfort of a high speed ferry. SFOWetNet consists of two networks that share a common backhaul and whose over-the-water segments overlay one another. One network is designed to serve commercial vessels, and the second provides Wi-Fi access for recreational boaters throughout the central and western portions of San Francisco Bay. These two networks include:

  • WiMAX for commercial vessels — “SFOWetNet-comml” provides high-performance, unlicensed WiMAX connectivity to enable reliable connectivity for commercial vessels, including ferries, tugboats,
    tankers, cargo and dinner cruise vessels as well as public safety vessels such as police, fire and search and rescue boats. The networkcurrently provides broadband Internet connectivity and in the near
    future will provide wireless VoIP and wireless real-time streaming video for the delivery of news and entertainment directly to vessels on the move.
  • WiFi for the recreational boater: “SFOWetNet-marine” provides Wi-Fi connectivity for all recreational vessels, enabling all boats to receive Wi-Fi access via an hourly, daily or monthly subscription. A
    laptop is all that is needed to enjoy Wi-Fi service up to half a mile from shore, and longer distances are possible with the use of a range-extender such as those sold by Engenius and Pepwave.

The wireless network coverage area stretches from the Bay Bridge to the San Rafael Bridge, as well as from Alcatraz/Angel Island all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Last week I spoke to Milt Gregory, founder of Sunrise Wireless (based in Cupertino), and he says that they started building the SF Bay network in 2006. They specialize in marine broadband communications and were responsible for designing the Washington State Ferries Wi-Fi network which, until the launch of the SF Bay network, was the largest in the country.