In the future, we’ll all need a faster connection to the Internet. We’ll need more bandwidth for streaming high-definition video, strolling through virtual worlds, and, well, doing things no one has even thought of yet. But Google worries that Internet service providers won’t give us all the bandwidth we’ll need. So it’s taking matters into its own hands.
Several years ago, it unveiled Google Fiber, providing ultra-high-speed Internet connections to home and businesses in certain select cities. This redefined notions of how fast our Internet speeds should be, and in some cases, it significantly increased competition among service providers. But Google has been slow to push the service into new places. And the fact of the matter is that most people are still stuck with much slower connections. So, in order to accelerate this revolution, Google is turning to wireless technologies.
Today, the fastest Internet connections arrive via wire line. Your home connection is faster than the connection to your mobile phone. But Google is exploring a different breed of wireless that could provide a way of more rapidly pushing high-speed connections into homes and offices across the country.
Earlier this year, officials in Kansas City approved a Google plan to place experimental wireless antennas on the city’s light poles so that the company could expand its network of Internet connections without tapping into wire lines. And a new document, first spotted by Business Insider, reveals that Google is planning to expand those experiments into other cities, including Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah. The document signals that Google is serious about delivering Internet over the 3.5GHz radio spectrum, a swath of spectrum that the FCC opened up for broadband use last year.
All this is part of much larger effort to accelerate the evolution of our Internet connections. Google recently acquired an Internet service provider that was exploring similar technology, and Facebook is building new wireless antennas that can not speed up our Internet connections and even them into new places.
The fiber-optic wire line pipes required to deliver Google Fiber style gigabit Internet connections are already available across much of the country. The problem is that it’s very expensive to connect those backbone pipes to people’s homes and offices—the so-called “last mile” of an Internet connection. This often involves digging up people’s yards, or even tearing up streets and sidewalks.
In Kansas City, the first place Google Fiber offered its service, Google was able to cut its deployment costs by negotiating deals to run its cables along existing utility lines. But the company hasn’t had as much luck gaining access to utility poles in other cities. For example, AT&T sued to prevent Google Fiber from accessing its utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky.
That could be a big part of why Google appears to be shifting its focus to wireless technologies, which, in theory, should be much cheaper to deploy and could eventually offer speeds that are competitive with fixed line fiber optic connections. Google Fiber recently delayed its plans to deploy fiber in Silicon Valley and Portland, Oregon, and is reportedly considering offering wireless Internet access instead.
Meanwhile, Google recently acquired an Internet provider called WebPass. WebPass already uses wireless back haul in providing high-speed connections to apartment buildings in San Francisco. And through its partnership with a company called Artemis Networks, it could one day offer something more radical. Artemis has been working on something called pCell networks, which could improve bandwidth further still.
Unlike Google, Facebook doesn’t seem interested in becoming an Internet service provider. But it’s still investing heavily in technologies that aim to improve Internet access. Earlier this year, the company unveiled an ambitious plan to build new types of antennas and other wireless technologies and give the designs away freely to telcos. This includes ARIES, which the company hopes will be used to beam Internet access into hard to reach rural areas, and Terragraph, which is designed to help improve WiFi and cellular coverage in cities.
Of course, the world won’t depend entirely on wireless Internet. Both companies are heavily investing in undersea cables, and Google’s parent company Alphabet is also trenching pipe for Internet connections in Ghana. But when it comes to the last mile, both companies envision a wireless future.