Saturday, September 5, 2015

Google Brings Free Wi-Fi to NY

Free Google Wi-Fi in NY
In a few months, Google will provide residents of New York City with free Wi-Fi. It's likely to result in a lot of happy New Yorkers, but it could be just as beneficial to the search giant.

Sidewalk Labs, a company Google founded earlier this year to "improve life in cities for everyone through the application of technology to solve urban problems," is leading LinkNYC, a plan to transform old, unused payphone booths into free Wi-Fi hot spots in the Big Apple.

Sidewalk Labs has not disclosed its future targets, but has said in previous releases that it will look to bring the technology to other cities. In time, urban residents across the country - and perhaps the world - could come to depend on Google for their Internet needs.

Earlier in August 2015, Google announced a plan to restructure, changing its name to Alphabet, and breaking out many of its increasingly exotic business units as separate companies. Sidewalk Labs is one such company, led by former Bloomberg CEO Dan Doctoroff. In an interview with his former firm, Doctoroff admitted that Sidewalk Labs would look to bring its technology to other cities over time, and that it could eventually go global.

Starting in September 2015, Sidewalk Labs will begin installing Wi-Fi pylons throughout New York City. These pylons will provide free Wi-Fi and phone charging and, through a network of advertising, could generate an estimated US$ 500 million dollars for the city government over the next 12 years. It's not the first time Google has provided such a service - it provides free Wi-Fi in parts of Mountain View, Calif. (where its headquarters are) - but it is a far more substantial undertaking.

Google is becoming increasingly interested in Wi-Fi, launching services to take advantage of it, and pushing regulators to protect it.

Project Fi, its wireless service, is designed to utilize Wi-Fi networks. Project Fi subscribers have their calls and text messages routed over available Wi-Fi connections whenever possible, switching to Sprint or T-Mobile's wireless network only when Wi-Fi isn't available.

For many, that may be often, as free Wi-Fi networks are relatively scarce. As it stands, Project Fi is a limited service, accessible only to owners of Google's Nexus 6 and available only through an invite system. But if Google can - through Sidewalk Labs - expand free Wi-Fi availability, Project Fi could become more attractive and more reliable.

Verizon and T-Mobile has already made plans to utilize Wi-Fi airwaves to broadcast cellular signals. This technology, known as LTE-U, has drawn the ire of Google.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google expressed its displeasure to the Federal Communications Commission in June. Google cited the potential for LTE-U to degrade Wi-Fi signals, weakening the potency of free Wi-Fi networks. In the letter, Google cited Wi-Fi hot spots provided by cable companies, but LTE-U may jeopardize its own ambitions.

Then there's OnHub, the US$ 200 Wi-Fi router Google recently unveiled. OnHub is designed for consumer use - meant to occupy a shelf in a home - and seems unrelated to its urban Wi-Fi ambitions, but by providing a strong signal and an easy to use interface, Google is establishing a new standard in-home connectivity, and helping to ensure that people have fast, speedy Wi-Fi wherever they are.

(Photo by John R. Coughlin/CNN Money.)

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