Expanded unlicensed spectrum testing shows Google is serious about wireless broadband

A recent FCC filing has shown Google Fiber is taking its ambitions up a level as it looks to test wireless broadband technology in up to 24 locations throughout the US.

Jamie Davies

August 11, 2016

4 Min Read
Expanded unlicensed spectrum testing shows Google is serious about wireless broadband

A recent FCC filing has shown Google Fiber is taking its ambitions up a level as it looks to test wireless broadband technology in up to 24 locations throughout the US.

This week the team were set to begin work to install Google Fiber in Mountain View and Palo Alto, however workers were told to put the brakes on as alternative options were being explored. The last few weeks have somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for the business unit, as despite costing the company money, CFO Ruth Porat was full of praise for the team with expansion looking like the obvious move. The decision to halt work in California may have come as a surprise to some quarters of the industry.

The filing, which was originally spotted by Business Insider, begins to connect the dots and adds credibility to theories which have been circulating over the last couple of days. Google Fiber has now requested permission to operate between the 3.4 and 3.8 GHz band. If wireless broadband technology is a feasible possibility in the near future, why would Google go through the costly process of digging up streets and laying fibre cables?

“Google Inc. (Google) requests authorization to conduct radio experiments in support of developing Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) technologies, using [REDACTED] experimental transmitters at up to 24 U.S. locations,” the statement said. “The experimental authorization is sought for a period of 24 months. Google outlines below its need for the requested authorization and the reasons why it should be granted expeditiously.

“In establishing the CBRS, the Commission opened a door for wireless innovation and bandwidth abundance. Rather than allocating the 3.5 GHz band to a single use, the Commission rightly decided to allow shared use of the spectrum. Users of the spectrum might, for instance, deploy “small cell” networks that can carry heavy loads of data in high-traffic areas—such as crowded stadiums—or offer fixed wireless broadband services in rural areas. The additional spectrum that is now available in the 3.5 GHz band will also help relieve Wi-Fi congestion—improving the experience of consumers accessing the Internet over wireless broadband.”

Wireless broadband has seemingly been on the mind of the Google Fiber leadership for some time, though the acquisition of Webpass in June cemented this vision. The innovation team had been testing the idea of wireless broadband technologies in Kansas during the early parts of 2016 using the 3.5-GHz band, though the Webpass team had seemingly made more progress than Google, a phrase which is not used that often. Webpass has been helping to test a technology called pcell, a wireless antenna assigned to an individual user. By installing these antennas in buildings where Webpass has customers, the company can significantly improve connectivity on wireless devices.

The filing itself will allow Google Fibre to put up experimental transmitters at up to 24 locations throughout the US, including in 12 cities. The cities identified so far include Atwater, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Bruno, San Francisco and San Jose in California, Boulder in Colorado, Kansas City, Omaha in Nebraska, Raleigh in North Carolina, Provo in Utah, and Reston in Virginia.

The introduction of wireless broadband technology has the potential to accelerate Google Fiber’s entry into the world of internet delivery, and also create a disruptive business model. Google Fiber has been growing steadily in the territories it’s present following an initial launch in 2010. The company is built on the slogan of “A different kind of Internet and TV”, which could very much be the case should the wireless broadband tests be successful.

Without the expensive and time-consuming activity of digging up streets and laying fibre, time to market could be reduced as well as the cost to the consumer. The team have not outlined any pricing plans on how they plan to take on traditional players, though reduced operational expenditure could be relayed onto the consumer, undercutting competitors without having a significant impact on the bottom line.

While the bottom line would be a concern for every organization, Google has shown on a number of occasions it is not afraid to invest heavily on innovative ideas. Despite costing the company money, Google Fiber is still at the forefront of the business and Google Maps is another prime example. There was no immediate pay-off for the investments which was being made into Google Maps, but it now features heavily in numerous apps and websites. The long-game certainly paid off here.

24 months is a long-time, but the technology has the potential to be a disruptor and could catapult Google to the forefront of another industry. Internet connectivity is a topic which can be a pain point for consumers around the world, a company with the reputation and brand credibility of Google could certainly make a splash in the industry, if the technology is there to back it up.

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