Nokia has signed on as a sponsor of free wireless LAN access in some New York City parks and will let users of Nokia devices access a special mobile portal with multimedia content.
The Wi-Fi networks in 10 city parks will go live by the end of August, according to Marshall Brown, chief executive officer of Wi-Fi Salon, a startup that will build and operate the networks as a concessionaire of the city. The company announced on Thursday that its first network, in Battery Park, is now live.
When users of non-Nokia devices start using one of the networks, their browsers will be directed to a Web portal presented by Wi-Fi Salon that gives information about the park and the surrounding area, as well as some multimedia content that will be available only on the park wireless LAN, Brown said.
Users of Nokia devices with Wi-Fi capability, namely the N80 and N91 phones and the 770 Internet Tablet, will be able to access a special portal available only from the LAN, with other multimedia content supplied by media partners chosen by Nokia. One partner will be AM New York, a daily newspaper, said Nokia spokeswoman Camilla Gragg.
The N80 is a quad-band global system for mobile communication (GSM) and wideband code-division multiple access (WCDMA) phone, and the N91 is a tri-band GSM/WCDMA phone with a 4GB hard drive. Both are sold in the United States but not offered through a mobile operator. The 770 Internet tablet is a Wi-Fi-only device.
Gragg would not comment on financial aspects of the sponsorship deal, but said it would serve as a showcase for the N-series devices. “It’s a nice way for people to see what you can do over a high-speed connection,” Gragg said.
Wi-Fi Salon won an exclusive three-year concession from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in October 2004, according to the company. The deal expires in October 2007 but is renewable. The networks will cover some of the city’s best-known parks, including Union Square Park, Riverside Park and Washington Square Park. Central Park will have eight separate networks, each with its own local Web portal.
“The whole thing was predicated on a major sponsor coming in and helping to launch the network,” Wi-Fi Salon’s Brown said. Nokia filled that role. Wi-Fi Salon is looking for other sponsors in addition to Nokia, and it also plans to sell ads on its portals, he said.
Users won’t have to create a user account or sign in to the network as is envisioned for the proposed EarthLink-Google citywide Wi-Fi network in San Francisco. They will be able to freely browse away from the Wi-Fi Salon portal that will appear as the “splash page,” Brown said.
“We want to make the local portal there compelling enough that at least some people would want to linger there and explore,” Brown said.
Charles Jang, an actor who lives near Washington Square Park, was excited to hear about the new service. He said he would carry his notebook computer more often if he knew there was free Wi-Fi in the parks, especially in Central Park.
-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)
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