Google has teamed up with EarthLink to build a citywide WiFi proposal for San Francisco, which closed the RFP (request for proposal) process for its wireless broadband initiative on Tuesday.

Cisco Systems and IBM have also joined in on a proposal involving a non-profit company called SeaKay, according to the city. San Francisco also received four other submissions.

WiFi for free

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom kicked off the city's drive for public wireless internet access in October 2004, and Google put itself in the spotlight last year with a reply to the city's initial request for information and comment. The search-engine company proposed building a network at no cost to the city and offering a free service supported by targeted, location-based advertising. EarthLink, also the network owner and operator in Philadelphia's controversial citywide WiFi plan, submitted its own response at that time. For San Francisco's formal RFP process, the two companies joined up.

The RFP process looked for detailed plans for a wireless service that would cover 95 per cent of the city outdoors and reach most indoor users.

The chance to make a proposal ended at 5pm on Tuesday. A panel will evaluate the plans and make recommendations by early April, and the city's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services hopes to then start negotiating with the winning bidder.

Two-level service

EarthLink teamed up with Google because it is based near San Francisco and brings its own capabilities to the project, said Bill Tolpegin, vice president of development and planning for municipal networks at EarthLink.

Using the same IEEE 802.11g network, EarthLink would provide a subscription-based service with throughput of about 1Mbps (bits per second) while Google would offer a free service at about 300Kbps, Tolpegin said. The companies would also sell wholesale access to other ISPs (internet service providers) that could resell services to end users.

In addition to providing traditional internet access to end users, the companies plan to support other types of services, which could include specialised devices such as music players or location tags, Tolpegin said.