May 23--A new free Wi-Fi service has popped up in downtown Chicago.
Gowex, a Madrid-based telecommunications company, launched a local network this week with 450 Wi-Fi hot spots, covering neighborhoods from the Loop to Lakeview with its ad-supported service.
The rollout is part of a broader initiative by Spain's largest pure-play Wi-Fi operator, which is looking to expand into 600 cities worldwide by 2018.
"The vision of our founder, Jenaro Garcia, is Wi-Fi is like water," said Carlos Pujol, the New York-based CEO of Gowex North America. "It should be made available to the widest population."
Gowex made its first foray into the U.S. in March 2013, launching in New York with nearly 2,000 Wi-Fi hot spots. It has since expanded to San Francisco and Miami, making Chicago the fourth U.S. city to offer the service.
The Chicago service employs 450 access points on buildings throughout the downtown and North Side, according to Pujol. Coverage extends up to 150 feet from each site. Users can access the service through any mobile device using the Gowex app.
Gowex monetizes the free Wi-Fi service through mobile advertising that can deliver geographically-targeted banner ads. It also contracts with cellular providers, using its network capacity to handle data overflow, according to Pujol.
Founded in 1999, Gowex is a publicly-traded company listed on France's Alternext. The company had revenues of about $249 million in 2013, up 60 percent year-over-year, according to Pujol.
The company is looking to bring its service to the 40 largest cities in North America, but isn't done building out in Chicago, according to Pujol.
"It's not all we want to do in Chicago," said Pujol, who joined Gowex on May 1. "We would like to be in transit, we would like to be in venues and we also would to extend the coverage throughout the city."
Gowex has a long way to go to catch up with Comcast, which has created more than 340,000 hot spots in Chicago through an initiative that uses home modems to send separate public Wi-Fi signals. Comcast is projected to reach 8 million hot spots nationwide by the end of the year.
"It's nice that Comcast is offering Wi-Fi, but we would contend that is not for free, because you are a customer," Pujol said. "Our mission as a company is to be able to provide free Wi-Fi with the sustainable model we have created."
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