By Adam Pasick
Google, the online search leader, confirmed on Tuesday it has begun a
limited test of a free wireless Internet service, called Google WiFi.
The existence of the Wi-Fi service, which offers high-speed
connections to the Internet over short distances, is confirmed by
public pages on the company's Web site and was first reported in a
Silicon Valley newspaper in July.
Google spokesman Nate Tyler said the current test is limited to two
public sites near the company's Mountain View, California,
headquarters -- a pizza parlor and a gym -- located in the heart of
"Google WiFi is a community outreach program to offer free wireless
access in areas near our headquarters," Tyler said.
"At this stage in development, we're focused on collecting feedback
from users. We'll determine next steps as the product evolves," he
Free wireless communications would take Google even further from its
Internet search roots and move it into the fiercely competitive world
of Internet access providers and telecommunications companies.
Tyler said the project was started as part of a Google engineer's "20
percent time project."
Google encourages its engineers to spend 20 percent of their work time
developing independent projects. Several of Google's new products have
grown out of such projects, including Google News, contextual
advertising program AdSense and social-networking test project Orkut.
The Google Web site has several references to Google WiFi but provides
few details. One page ( http://wifi.google.com/faq.html/ ) refers to a
product called "Google Secure Access," which is designed to "establish
a more secure connection while using Google WiFi."
The company has already launched a sponsored Wi-Fi "hotspot" in San
Francisco's Union Square shopping district in April with a start-up called
In July, the San Jose Mercury News reported that in exchange for using
the free Google WiFi service, customers would be required to load a
copy of Cisco's secure network software and Google's "toolbar" program
on their laptops.
Speculation about a forthcoming Google WiFi service was stoked in
August following an article in Business 2.0 magazine, which argued
that the company was considering building a U.S. broadband network
capable of targeting specific advertising to users based on the
location of their Wi-Fi.
As evidence, the magazine pointed to what it said was Google's
purchase of unused, high-capacity fiber-optic network connections left
over from the telecom bust earlier this decade. Google responded
saying that such purchases were natural for a company with one of the
larger Web sites.
But the company has declined to discuss its broader plans.
Analysts have voiced concerns that Google could extend itself too far
beyond its core business, while acknowledging that its vast financial
and engineering resources could produce results.
"Becoming a service provider would be quite a stretch for Google, but
considering the billions of dollars Google could throw at the problem
it could become a reality," Ovum analyst Roger Entner wrote in the
wake of the Business 2.0 article.
Google, which is rapidly expanding beyond its core Internet search
service, introduced an instant messaging and Web telephone calling
service called Google Talk in August.
Its shares were up 1.5 percent to $308.30 in trading late Tuesday
afternoon on the Nasdaq exchange.
"I think strategically it absolutely makes sense but its profit and
loss impact remains unclear," said Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef
(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and Eric Auchard in San
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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