Google keeps marching beyond Internet searching into new markets. Where next? The most intriguing recent guess is free wireless Internet service.
Avidly Seeking Wireless Clues From Google
Google, with deep pockets and seemingly boundless ambition, keeps marching steadily beyond Internet searching into new markets like e-mail, advertising, book searches, a satellite map service, instant messaging and telephony. Where next?
The most intriguing recent guess, based on a few Google experiments, is free wireless Internet service. And there appear to be fascinating hints on several Web pages nestled in Google's site. They describe a new test service called Google Wi-Fi and indicate how to use its wireless desktop software, Google Secure Access.
On one page, the features and terms of the new service are described as answers to questions.
"Is there a fee for using Google Secure Access? No, Google Secure Access is free."
"Where can I go to download Google Secure Access? The program can currently be downloaded at certain Google Wi-Fi locations in the San Francisco Bay area."
Citing those Web pages, Reuters carried an article yesterday saying that Google was preparing to introduce its own wireless Internet service. Later in the day, Reuters distributed a revised version of the article saying that Google had begun a limited test of the wireless service.
Google started two wireless access points in Silicon Valley in July, a spokesman said yesterday, one at a pizzeria and the other at a gymnastics center. Recently, it also talked with San Francisco officials about setting up public wireless networks in the city, where it established a single access point in Union Square last spring with a partner, Feeva.
Any further plans, a national rollout perhaps? "We have nothing to announce now," the spokesman, Nathan Tyler, said.
The early efforts, Mr. Tyler said, are part of Google's public outreach program and in keeping with the corporate mission to "make the world's information available."
Google is always guarded about new offerings. Its "billionaires with a heart" image - fostered in language and culture by its young founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin - only serves to make industry analysts and rivals think that some marketing strategy is to be teased out of even the most innocuous pronouncements.
Speculation that Google may be planning free wireless service around the country has been rising. Last month, an article in Business 2.0 said that for the last year, the company had "quietly been shopping for miles and miles of 'dark,' or unused, fiber optic cable across the country," presumably as a step toward building a wireless network.
Such a free wireless service could make business sense, according to John Battelle, author of "The Search," a new book about Google published by Portfolio Hardcover. "It would be another way for Google to sell targeted advertising and burnish its brand," Mr. Battelle said. "And it's very much in the tradition of Google's brand promise - great stuff free."
Having its own wireless service, some analysts said, could reduce the risk Google would face if a big Internet service provider, like AOL, which now generates a lot of Google traffic, fell into the hands of its rival Microsoft. AOL and Microsoft have held talks recently. "Google may want to have more control over its own destiny," said Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.