Google has slowly shown their interest in various communications mediums, which seem to indicate the company will begin offering internet access to consumers. The most probable method for this to occur will be via wireless broadband access in major cities across the United States.
Various Google acquisitions, partnerships, and Google Labs releases indicate that the search and advertising company is looking for ways to reduce costs and offer private services. Imagine a huge intranet for Google users; it has one log in that allows them access to all things Google, Gmail, Adwords, Adsense, Google Sitemaps, and other offerings that require a Google account log in.
The cost cutting aspect is probably the largest and strongest indication Google is building its own network. Currently, Google is paying third parties, such as large telecoms AT&T and Verizon, premium fees for bandwidth space which is of limited supply. G seems not to see the boundaries for cyberspace growth and market penetration, since it does not like limits placed on their “infinite” possibilities.
Google has also been buying up dark fiber for quite some time. Dark fiber refers to the fiber optic cabling which has been run throughout most of North America over the last three decades but has never been used. At one time, there was talk of 500 television stations being offered through fiber optics, but having 50 channels of Gunsmoke and Lassie reruns was not what people wanted. There was also the speculation of the dot com-ers, who are responsible for much of the dark fiber being spread out, until the dot com burst eliminated many of the companies who wanted to use the fiber optic delivery channel.
Google has teamed with Current Communications of Maryland in a related move earlier this year. The technology they are working on allows broadband access via power lines. Current provides this service in several cities in Ohio. As we can see, this is just another possibility Google could offer in its quest to be all things to all people. This is also another way for Google to offer wireless services to areas of the country that will not have wireless access networks built and allow expanded coverage in remote areas.
Recent pairings have also found Google getting ready to explore space and reach the sun. Well not quite, but announcements in the news show NASA and Sun Microsystems joining with Google in ventures of futuristic thought.
Google signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA, which will have the two cooperating on numerous ventures: sharing property, building an educational and research campus with housing and retail mixed in, exploring super computers, data mining, bio-info-nano convergences (research of the combination of biological, information, and nano technologies), and the space program’s entrepreneurial spirit infused with a government agency.
Maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else notice the complete lack of anyone mentioning satellites, which Google could use in its future as an ISP? It really makes perfect sense when you consider the amount of people paying for broadband internet access in hard to reach places, like in South America. In some of these areas, monthly access fees can easily reach over $100.00 or $400.00 per month.
Before going to bed with dream of free WiFi access dancing in your head, think about the possible ramifications that this would have. Besides the obvious ISPs that will be affected, there is also an impact that will be felt by telecommunications companies as well as cable television operators.
By tapping into the local market and offering free or greatly reduced cost WiFi access, Google would control the favored delivery of the internet to the area. This could impact local newspapers throughout the United States, as well as erode the local advertising revenue many smaller newspapers need in order to survive. Google’s free-to-access local ads could become more desirable than a subscription paper.
With the various tools used to determine geo positioning, a tourist at the San Fran Visitor Center on 5th and Market Streets using his PDA, for example, and doing a search query for musical events in the city could see ads for a concert at the Sony Metreon on 4th street, between Mission and Howard sts. The man could even pull a map of the location, only a block away from where the user performed their query.
There’s no need to find a local newspaper and hope it has listings for musical events, or to find a yellow pages (if you can, most often when out and about. nobody has a copy you can use) just the ad you want, when you want it.
Google is currently bidding on developing a wireless network in conjunction with the city of San Francisco, which if successful will allow them to expand to other large markets and then move into the mid level markets across the United States and begin to build out their network. If Google wins the bid, it will only help them win future bids in other metropolitan areas. However, if they do not win, they are still in the game. Philadelphia, where the author lives, recently formed a non profit group named by the mayor and the group has chosen Earthlink Inc as the finalist to provide high speed internet access to city residents.
There are currently over 300 communities in the United States considering WiFi access for their residents. The Earthlink Philadelphia network will be the largest in the nation once completed. Once the network is built by Earthlink, it will then be available for ISPs to lease, so they can offer service as well. Just the thought of the WiFi service in Philadelphia has driven the price of DSL service from Verizon to fall to $14.95 per month.
So even if Google doesn’t win their bids, they can always lease the WiFi networks where they feel the need. Another thought is to send up their own satellites with the help of the guys over at NASA and provide access this way as well. This would also make for nice back up system should any community have internet access problems in the future.
It was also noted by Google in Mid September 2005 that they were offering a limited test of free wireless internet service named Google WiFi. Supposedly a community outreach imitative Google is participating in by offering access from two locations near the Mountainview California Search engines headquarters.
I am not sure how much of community outreach this is as the two locations Google offers the service from are a pizza shop and gym. Isn’t there a library in the community? Basically this is a test for Google to gather user feedback before they explore a full fledged push to become an internet service provider and telecommunications company.
This initiative was supposedly brought about by one of the Google engineer’s 20% time project. I could buy into that, except for the fact that Google has been purchasing the dark fiber with the explanation that it’s a natural thing to do for a company with such a large website. I have to hand it to their spin doctors, who are a cut above the rest.
There are more hints that Google is going to get into the game in a much bigger scale than many expect and that is evidenced by a few pages on their website. There is a frequently asked questions page found here: http://wifi.google.com/faq.html. There is an installer page here: http://wifi.google.com/download.html. This page is the Google Secure Access script needed to link to the wireless network.
I think it’s apparent that Google is in some way, shape, or form going to offer internet access to the world at large. Be it tomorrow or after a year of tomorrows, but definitely sooner than later Google’s going to fulfill their mission statement right from the first sentence “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. There is no mistake what it says, and I would have to say it is what they intend to do.
When you also consider that Google’s many offerings can all be accessed via WAP and i-Mode phones, it is a slam dunk they’re coming to a city near you. They will have an impact on local advertising revenues, but there is a silver lining to the news. Local businesses are going to invest money in online advertising because of one reason and one reason only: it works, plain and simple. Whether Google or the local newspapers get the budget for the increased online ad revenue will be determined not by a brand name, but by what the local business has always received from local newspapers. That is customer service.
So let me stand at the top of the mountain and yell this across the land, Dear local newspaper owner, your survival is dependant on how well your customer service people outperform the faceless presence of Google. Train your customer service people well, enable them to make decisions on their own, and reward them well. A happy employee is a healthy bottom line in the making.
As for now, most newspapers local presence will allow them to maintain their ad revenues should Google enter the WiFi market. But the customer services they offer will have to be top notch to continue to compete.