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Bay Area Lands “Most Unwired” Title

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Last year, Intel Corp.’s “Most Unwired Cities” survey said Portland, Ore., was the top spot to find hotspots. Now some different methods of measuring the status of “unwiredness” have pushed the tech haven of San Francisco to the top of this year’s list (pushing Portland down to number five).

The survey was conducted by Bert Sperling, the president of Sperling’s Best Places, a business that does nothing but rate communities across the country on criteria such as “best and worst for crime” or “most stressful.” Sperling says last year Portland won out due to how quickly the city had adopted Wi-Fi as its own, due in no small part to the grassroots work of the community group called the Personal Telco Project.

With this year’s survey , Sperling took into account more than just the number of hotspots in the top 100 Metropolitan statistical areas (based on US Census Bureau population statistics) — he also included marketing data for overall sales of WLAN devices. Thus, the more access points and 802.11 cards sold in an area the more unwired it is. Overall penetration of Internet usage was also a factor. Finally, the overall population of an area had to be taken into consideration. The over-population factor usually nudges cities like New York (number 24) and Los Angeles (number 23) down on the chart from where they could be.

In the end, Sperling says “It doesn’t change things significantly. Portland was an early adopter, but other places are catching up. A high tech city is a high tech city. They adopt things faster.”

The San Francisco Bay Area — from Fisherman’s Wharf to San Jose’s San Pedro Square and across the bay to Oakland’s Jack London Square — is now number one. The top ten goes on to include Orange County, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore; Seattle, Wash.; Bergen, N.J.; Middlesex, N.J.; San Diego, Calif. and Denver, Colo.

“There weren’t any surprises” says Sperling. “When you look at the cities that are high tech leaders, they bubble to the top.”

He says affluence of an area plays a part too, citing the showing of the Orange County area in California.

Portland is still the leader overall in public access nodes for Wi-Fi.

Intel and Sperling extended the survey this year to more than just cities. They looked at college campuses and airports as well.

Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.; Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.; University of Texas at Austin; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. were in the top five campuses out of 150 tech savvy schools Sperling researched.

In airports, none could beat the cloud of coverage at Dallas-Fort Worth International. The rest of the top five included LaGuardia, Atlanta Hartsfield; O’Hare in Chicago, and the Baltimore-Washington in Maryland. Sperling says it was difficult to gauge the airports since they’re growing so fast.

In fact, the growth of Wi-Fi probably means this year or next could be the last for the Intel Most Unwired Cities survey: “As Wi-Fi becomes more common, people are less likely to make note of what’s available,” says Sperling. “It’s like cell phones — what’s the big deal when you have complete coverage? A study like this will be obsolete in a couple of years.”

Intel’s interest in wireless stems from spending $300 million last year marketing its Centrino chipset, which embeds Wi-Fi into laptops.

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