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November 13, 2005

Google: planning another WiFi network

Even if Google Inc fails to win its bid to bring free WiFi to the city of San Francisco, the company hopes to at least build a WiFi network 40 miles south of there in its home suburb of Mountain View. Although the company has not gone into detail about its mobile plans, or how it will make money from its WiFi ventures, the Mountain View move is further evidence of the company's focus in this area.

By CBR Staff Writer

Google has confirmed that it hopes to build a WiFi network in Mountain View.

The company has confirmed that it will submit a proposal to the Mountain View City Council in California to build a free WiFi network. In Mountain View, which is smack-dab in the center of Silicon Valley, Google wants to hoist 300 transmitters onto 3,000 street lights and telephone poles. The goal is to turn the city of about 72,000 into one big free WiFi hotspot.

In doing so, Google would blanket its flashy Googleplex headquarters, as well as that of nearby Firefox developer the Mozilla Foundation and Microsoft’s MSN and Hotmail divisions.

Because the city isn’t calling for other bidders for the project – unlike San Francisco – Google’s new network may be complete as early as Q1 2006, according to a city official.

Given that the San Francisco City Council has received dozens of offers similar to Google’s, including those from Cingular Wireless and Earthlink, it is difficult to gauge whether Google is merely hedging its bets by building a network in Mountain View or ramping up its wireless strategy.

Google director of product management Deep Nishar has declined to comment specifically on Google’s networking plans but said the company is ramping up its mobile efforts.

He would not tip the scales on what its upcoming products might be, but said the company is, in some respects, waiting for the market to catch up.

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When asked about what types of mobile applications Google would consider, he towed the company line by saying it listens to customer feedback.

Which brings up the hoary chestnut about just how Google plans to make money from mobile. The small screen size of cell phones means fewer opportunities for sold advertising. But Mr Nishar said the company customizes cell phone searches by providing only those sites customized for small screens.

With its free WiFi, the company may well have its home page automatically pop up when users log on. Or that of an advertiser’s.

However the money is made, if Google builds the networks and search applications for cell phone users, they will come.

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