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This week in mobile

San Francisco selects joint bid by EarthLink and Google to provide city with a wireless network. Also: Microsoft wins U.S. Census Bureau deal.

San Francisco has selected a joint bid by EarthLink and Google to provide San Francisco with a wireless network.

Under the proposal, which the two companies submitted to the city in February, free and paid wireless service will be available throughout the city.

Chris Vein, executive director of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services for San Francisco, said he expects that negotiations with Google and EarthLink will go smoothly and that work on building out the network could begin this year and be completed within a few months. Privacy was one of the issues considered by San Francisco TechConnect, the committee that selected the EarthLink proposal, Vein said, adding that the panel "felt comfortable enough with the total package of the deal that we should negotiate with EarthLink and Google on issues like privacy and security going forward."

Microsoft has won its biggest contract to date for the use of its Windows Mobile operating system, in a deal with the U.S. Census Bureau. The agency has signed up for 500,000 smart phones made by handset manufacturer HTC. They will run Windows Mobile 5.0 and be used to take the 2010 census.

It is a high-tech move for the agency. The bureau had previously used paper and pen to record details about U.S. citizens that were then digitized by data-entry staff. The deal is not only the largest Microsoft has ever received for mobile devices but also one of the biggest public deals for smart phones in the industry.

Social networking Web sites such as, which will soon go mobile, could become key applications driving data usage on new 3G wireless networks. For years, mobile operators, which have spent billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to 3G wireless technologies, have tried to get customers to do more than talk on their cell phones. Despite their efforts, the vast majority of revenue still comes from voice calling.

In the past, people using social networking services could access them only from their desktops or laptops. But now social networking is going mobile, allowing people to use their cell phones to upload pictures or send updates to blogs.

In March, MySpace announced a deal with the soon-to-be-launched wireless reseller Helio. And earlier this week, Facebook announced deals with Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless to enable people to post messages to their Facebook profiles via SMS text messaging. Flickr also lets people post and view photos from their handsets. Sprint Nextel has created its own photo-sharing site, called PCS Picture mail. It's expected to launch this spring.