Google looking to develop wireless networks in emerging markets


Say what you want about Google, but the portfolio of its ‘X’ lab is quite impressive. The secret department is responsible for churning out Jetson-like projects including self-driving cars and computerized glasses. It even dabbles in TV services, and gigabit internet.

And it looks like they’re about to take on another ambitious venture: building out wireless networks. According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, the tech giant is in talks with regulators, in a few different countries, about their plans to go wireless…

The Journal’s Amir Afrati reports:

“Google Inc. GOOG -1.07% is deep into a multipronged effort to build and help run wireless networks in emerging markets as part of a plan to connect a billion or more new people to the Internet.

These wireless networks would serve areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia to dwellers outside of major cities where wired Internet connections aren’t available, said people familiar with the strategy. The networks also could be used to improve Internet speeds in urban centers, these people said.”

Notice how it says “to build and help run”—Google’s not necessarily becoming its own carrier. It actually plans to team up with local companies to develop wireless networks using new technology, and then it’ll help them create business models to support them.

“In some cases, Google aims to use airwaves reserved for television broadcasts, but only if government regulators allowed it, these people said. Google has long been involved in public trials to prove the technology—which operates at lower frequencies than some cell networks, allowing signals to be more easily transmitted through buildings and other obstacles and across longer distances—can work.”

Other network technologies Google has been experimenting with include using special balloons, known as high-altitude platforms, to transmit signals (so instead of cell towers you’d have blimps), and it’s also considered creating a satellite-based network.

Additionally, the report says the Mountain View company has also been building an ecosystem of new microprocessors and low-cost smartphones, powered by its Android mobile operating system, to connect these networks. Some of the phones are less than $50.

So why’s Google doing all of this? It’s easy to speculate. Imagine how much more user behavior data it could collect if it controlled the internet connection itself, instead of just the software. And the more data it collects, the better its advertisement business gets.

Either way, the project sounds cool.

Apple for a long time was rumored to be investigating becoming a carrier itself. But it was believed to be interested in MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) technology, where you piggyback on a larger carrier’s network, not launching its own high tech balloons.