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July 19, 2007

How does muni Wi-Fi become free?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 6:01 AM

A number of cities across the country have decided to build Wi-Fi networks that l hover over residents like a cloud and provide free Internet access.

It's been a lot harder to deliver on those promises than people thought.

First, there have been a lot of difficulties in deploying the networks. How strong should the signal be? Should it be able to work in everyone's home? At what cost? These and other questions have surfaced.

While networks are continuing to be built, the next question is still being fleshed out.

In November, Microsoft announced a partnership with MetroFi to add local content from its MSN property and ad services to the MetroFi network in Portland.

MetroFi has its own ad network and today also uses Microsoft's adCenter platform to help advertisers reach local Wi-Fi users in return for offering free Internet service.

Today, Microsoft is annoucing a partnership with San Francisco-based JiWire, which is best known for its Web directory, which attempts to list all hotspot locations.

Microsoft said through this partnership it will use JiWire's advertising service called Ultramercial to deliver ads in Portland and Oakland County, Mich..

Ultramercial ads are interactive advertisements that Wi-Fi network users agree to watch in exchange for free network access -- perhaps a 30-second ad for half hour of access.

Stefan Weitz, a director of planning at MSN, said they are experimenting to determine which ads work better in the Wi-Fi environment.

"These are ad-supported networks, so they are free, but we all know that nothing is actually free," he said. "So we are working with these folks to find the right mix of advertising and to optimize the usage, so users are not bombarded with ads when they are on the networks."

One Ultramercial Weitz has seen involves Nike, where prior to showing a video, the ad asks whether the viewer is a runner or a basketball player. The ad can then be be tailored to that person. Here's an example on the JiWire Web site.

"They are cool, they are interesting and immersive," he said. "Advertisers love them because they have hugely high click-through rates and they aren't some banner, they are interesting."

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez
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Kristi Heim
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