TECHNOLOGY

Google Is Very Serious About Beaming High-Speed Internet Everywhere

A new FCC filing reveals that Google Fiber wants to test its Internet in 24 U.S. locations.

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BY Kevin J. Ryan - 15 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Since its launch in 2011, Google Fiber has made it its mission to bring high-speed Internet to people all over the U.S.

A new FCC filing has revealed just how serious it is about that mission. The filing, first spotted by Business Insider, calls for "experimental transmitters" that would beam broadband Internet wirelessly in 24 locations throughout the U.S. The Internet would operate in the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz range, which allows for speeds up to 30 times faster than what's currently offered by most broadband providers.

If Fiber accomplishes its goal, it will eventually provide a cheaper, faster Internet in an industry where customers have few options for service providers. (More than half of Americans live in areas with only one provider.) In test cities where Fiber has already been introduced, big name providers have scrambled to increase their Internet speeds in order to compete.

While Fiber's plan so far has been to wire fiber optic cables into each residence, that has proven costly and time-consuming. Fiber acquired Webpass, a wireless service provider, in June. Webpass, which already operates in the Bay Area and a handful of other locations, focuses on beaming wireless Internet from microwave towers to homes and apartments in urban areas. Since that acquisition, Fiber has shifted its focus for "last mile" logistics--getting the Internet from its network into actual homes and units--from fiber optic cables to wireless technology.

"We are working to test the viability of a wireless network that relies on newly available spectrum," Google told BI. "The project is in early stages today, but we hope this technology can one day help deliver more abundant Internet access to consumers."

In 2011, Google installed its Fiber service in its first testing location, Kansas City. It's since expanded to several locations including Austin, Nashville, and Provo, Utah. The filing mentions installing the transmitters in several of those locations as well as new cities such as Boulder, Colo.

Fiber is one of Google parent company Alphabet's "Other Bets." Alphabet has been experimenting with new, ambitious ventures that could diversify its services and help lead the company into its future. The $500 billion company is the second most valuable in the world, but it still makes 90 percent of its revenue from a single source: advertising on its search engine. In an age of quickly changing technology, this could leave it vulnerable.

Overall, Alphabet's moonshots lost $859 million last quarter. Fiber, along with Nest and life sciences unit Verily, is one of few companies in this portfolio to earn any revenue. Alphabet doesn't release revenue numbers for those companies individually. The service currently runs broadband customers around $70 per month--about on par with other providers, but at much higher speeds. Alphabet also doesn't release how many customers Fiber has, but a study in October estimated that number to be between 100,000 and 120,000.

Another Google moonshot, Project Loon, has the goal of beaming Internet by way of hot air balloons. That project is expected to enter a testing phase in Indonesia later this year.