Google's Mystery Communications Device: 6 Facts

Google's latest FCC filing offers clues to what its "next-generation communications device" will be.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

June 5, 2012

5 Min Read

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Google has asked the Federal Communications Commission to extend the special temporary authority (STA) it was granted in January to continue testing its "next-generation personal communications device." The STA expires in July and Google wants to continue its tests at least through August, when the device is expected be ready for FCC review.

"Based on projected milestones, Google anticipates that by August 2012 it will have a fully compliant device ready for submission for FCC equipment authorization...," Google telecom policy counsel Aparna Sridhar said in her FCC filing.

In February, GigaOm noticed a similar FCC filing for "an entertainment device." GigaOm writer Stacey Higginbotham speculated the device could be a Google TV unit or peripheral.

Whether the communications device and the entertainment device are related is unclear. Both probably rely on Google's Android operating system. But given the need for separate FCC testing permits and the fact that each device lists a different power output level (1 watt for the communications device, 316 milliwatts for the entertainment device), it appears they're distinct.

[ Read Google Apps Security Beat By CloudFlare Hackers. ]

If the communications device could be ready by August, Google may be planning to discuss the device at its developer conference, Google I/O, later this month. FCC approval for wireless devices can happen in a month or less, so the device could be available as soon as September, and Google might be able to provide developers with units sooner. (Google has established a tradition of giving tech hardware away to those attending Google I/O.)

So what is Google's next-generation communications device? Here's what we know:

1. It has an AC power adapter
Google's explanation of proposed testing notes that "the AC power adapter that will be supplied with the final device is not yet available."

2. It transmits data over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Google plans to submit its device for approval under FCC rule 15.201(b), which covers intentional radiators--devices that emit radio signals by design. Google says that its device emits in the 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi/Bluetooth band.

3. It will have GPS
Google says the test devices will have GPS. "GPS tracking of the devices remains in testing and development, and is expected to become functional during the STA period," the Google's FCC filing says.

4. It's mobile
Google says "use of applications and services likely will vary during business or other travel as compared to standard home or office use." While this may merely indicate that Google anticipates remote use of a stationary device, the fact that it will have GPS suggests portability. What's more, the FCC filing designates the device station class as MO, or mobile.

5. It will receive streaming data
Google is testing "the throughput and stability of available Wi-Fi networks that will support the device, as well as the functionality of the device." Google has asked to expand the number of devices in the Mountain View, Calif., area to around 700 to "allow Google to examine the increased load effects of streaming content and particular use applications on functionality and latency."

6. The device can be remotely disabled
Android doesn't support remote disabling by default (yet), but third-party software supports this functionality. Google says it "has the ability to remotely disable any or all test devices should it become necessary." While it's unclear whether this ability will exist in the eventual commercial release, Google might want to be able to disable a transmitting device to prevent abuse.

What kind of device does this suggest?

-- A Google phone
Let's take Google at its word and assume "personal communications device" means a Google-branded phone. Google has to do something to keep those Motorola Mobility employees busy.

-- Google augmented-reality glasses
Or don't take Google at its word. Google is known to be working on augmented reality glasses. However, an AC adapter and radio signal emission don't seem like they'd go well with glasses.

-- Google Nexus tablet
A Google-branded Android tablet, made with help from Motorola or another Google hardware partner, like Asus. Details of such a tablet are already being reported.

-- Google PlayScreen
A Google TV tablet designed for gaming, TV playback, and content sharing over unlicensed frequencies. Google interest in examining "the increased load effects of streaming content and particular use applications on functionality and latency," and its concerns about the way in which altitude "affects cooling rates" suggest the device is intended for processor-intensive, heat-generating content like 3-D games.

-- Google Media Hub
A portable access point for receiving and distributing streaming content to Android devices, possibly leveraging the technology Google acquired when it bought digital video recording company SageTV. Think Google's mixture of Apple's Time Capsule, the Android version of AirPlay, and the Virgin Mobile MiFi.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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