Google's ambitious broadband plans include testing wireless technology, filing shows


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Documents filed by Google to the Federal Communications Commission show that the Internet giant hopes to test wireless broadband technology. Reportedly the company has been interested in this for two years or more.

Reuters reported that Google plans to test so-called millimeter-wave technology somewhere in San Mateo, Calif., as well as a location believed to be on its Mountain View, Calif. campus.

Craig Barratt, the head of the Google Access and Energy division leading the effort to offer high-speed fiber networks in Kansas City and other locations, signed off as the authorized person submitting Google’s FCC application, Reuters reported. Barratt formerly was chief executive of Atheros.

Why this matters: If Google feels that a combination of wired and wireless broadband at gigabit speeds is feasible, that will put increasing pressure on competitors to follow suit. Already, AT&T is planning its own gigabit broadband plans, recently adding Chicago and Atlanta to the mix. A rising tide lifts all boats, and no carrier wants to cede territory they could own to Google.

Google's been busy building broadband

Google began supplying wired broadband services to Kansas City as part of its Google Fiber initiative in 2012. Soon after, the company was said to be interested in partnering with Dish to build a complementary wireless network. That plan moved forward over the intervening period, as Google began discussing the possibility of wireless broadband in the other cities it was negotiating with regarding Google Fiber.

According to the application that Reuters viewed, Google said the effort will use radio transmitters operating in the 5.8GHz frequency, the 24.2GHz frequency and in the millimeter wave bands of 71- to 76GHz and 81- to 86GHz.

The properties of millimeter wave technology make it suitable for short-range, high-throughput communications—such as jumping the last few yards from a central receiver to an antenna mounted on a home. For this reason, it’s more likely that Google isn’t thinking of the technology as a replacement for municipal Wi-Fi, but to save itself some money. Instead of laying fiber-optic cable everywhere, it could use dedicated wireless connections to replace them. (Proponents of the technology say it’s secure, if only because the narrow beams would require a sniffer antenna to be near or within the beam’s path.)

Google has yet to confirm its plans for the wireless technology, including whether it will commercialize it. Google has already tested wireless Internet access in Africa, as part of its Project Loon series of antenna-equipped balloons. Google Fiber, meanwhile, is being rolled out in as many as 34 more cities, as part of a “contest” Google is holding. 

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