Nokia to sponsor free wi-fi in New York parks

Hot spots in hang-outs such as Central Park are planned

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 ten 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 concession of the city. The company’s first network, in Battery Park, at the bottom of Manhattan, 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 says.

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.

The N80 is a quad-band GSM and WCDMA (Wideband Code-Division Multiple Access) phone and the N91 is a tri-band GSM/WCDMA phone with a 4GB hard drive. Both are sold in the US, but not offered through a mobile operator. The 770 Internet Tablet is a wi-fi-only device.

Brown would not comment on financial aspects of the sponsorship deal, but says it will 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,” he says.

Wi-Fi Salon won an exclusive three-year concession from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in October 2004. 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 says. 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 says.

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 says.

“We want to make the local portal there compelling enough that at least some people would want to linger there and explore,” Brown says.

Charles Jang, an actor who lives near Washington Square Park, is excited to hear about the new service. He says he would carry his notebook computer more often if he knew there was free wi-fi in the parks, especially in Central Park.

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