Why Google’s Gigabit Wireless Internet Won’t HappenIf there’s a single word to properly describe Google, it may be “ambitious.” Once only a search engine, the company’s current mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Part of that accessibility has come in the form of making broadband Internet access available to as many users as possible. In 2011, Google launched Google Fiber, a gigabit-capable fiber optic broadband network, in Kansas City. Now an Internet provider in addition to all of its other roles, the company is actively expanding its fiber network, and is now in talks with 34 cities around the country. Supply Is More Expensive Than Demand But not even Google has the resources to build a fiber network for the entire nation, as it requires physically installing countless mile after mile of fiber cable. As of 2013, Google’s investment in Kansas City’s fiber network alone was $94 million. The cost of building a nationwide fiber network could be as high as $140 billion. It’s that kind of potential cost that prevents a more rapid adoption of broadband Internet, so any technology that would reduce that cost is worth investigating. Not surprisingly, one of the companies leading the way in looking for those alternatives is Google. In recent filings with the FCC, Google asked permission to experiment with wireless frequencies capable of transmitting data at speeds exceeding current gigabit fiber. “From a radio standpoint it’s the closest thing to fiber there is…look at it as a possible wireless extension of their Google Fiber wireless network, as a way to more economically serve homes,” wireless engineer Stephen Crowley said. Repeating An Existing System If you think high-speed wireless already exists, you’re right, but only to a point. Gigabit Wi-Fi does indeed exist, but these small-scale networks are still connected to the outside world via wired connections. Google is proposing something much larger in scale than current wireless broadband connectivity. Transmitting data from the desktop in your living room to the tablet in your bedroom is one thing; sending it across a whole city is another. Contrary to what one might assume, rural residents, typically the most affected by the cost of fiber network infrastructure, may not benefit most if Google’s experiments prove successful. Millimeter wave transmissions work best over short, line-of-sight distances. So the technology may be far more useful for lowering the cost of building new fiber networks for densely populated cities rather than bringing broadband to the countryside. Power to the People or to Google? Assuming the experts are correct about Google’s intended use of these portions of the broadcast spectrum, it’s still going to be quite a while before you’re surfing the Internet on a wireless gigabit network. At most, it sounds as if the technology Google has in mind is only in the experimental stage, if not just theoretical. But more users accessing the Internet from wireless devices like tablets and laptops, gigabit-capable wireless seems like a natural progression, as engineers build technology to accommodate user behavior and preferences. Google may be the natural choice to explore this technology, but some already feel that the company is becoming too powerful. At least one government official in Germany, in addition to publishers in that country and France, believe that it may be time to break Google up into smaller entities. Of course, Germany has no power to affect Google within our own country, but there are those in our own country who feel the same way. If Google succeeds in its mission—organizing all the world’s information, and controlling access to it—such incredible power could be abused. Are you eagerly waiting for Google to bring gigabit speeds, whether via fiber or wireless, to your area? [zipfinder]
Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.