Google has applied to the FCC for permission to test an experimental wireless system. Is Google about to offer mobile broadband?

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

January 24, 2013

3 Min Read

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Google has applied to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to test an experimental wireless system, a possible prelude to providing mobile data service on a broad scale.

Steven J. Crowley, a consulting wireless engineer, published a blog post about Google's application on Wednesday, noting that some of the application and exhibits have been designated confidential.

"We don't know yet exactly what Google is testing here," Crowley wrote. "It might be devices it created. I suspect, though, that this is a test of a network architecture or service, using existing equipment."

[ There have been other signs of a Google wireless ramp-up. Read Google Brings Free Wi-Fi To New York. ]

Google declined to comment, but its actions are telling. Earlier this month, Google began providing free public Wi-Fi in outdoor areas of the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, where its Manhattan office is located. Two months ago, it began providing residents of Kansas City, Kan., with Internet access through high-speed fiber-optic cable, presumably in preparation for a broader rollout. The company also provides free Wi-Fi in the areas around its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters and its data centers in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Berkeley, S.C.

For Google, providing Internet service offers a hedge against competitors that might interfere with its services and the potential of recurring subscription revenue.

Google intends to conduct its experiment using the 2524-2546 MHz and 2567-2625 MHz portions of the radio spectrum, which are allocated for mobile broadband service. These frequencies are licensed to Clearwire, Crowley observes, in which Google used to be an investor.

"It could be used to provide commercial Internet service," Crowley said in a phone interview. "I didn't see anything in the application that points to that. There aren't many facts in the case."

Crowley said that there's more bandwidth available in the spectrum range where Google will be conducting its tests than other carriers have to deploy their LTE services. Although Google omitted the emission designation on its FCC form, Crowley contends that the "FW9" code present on the form indicates the test involves LTE. He also said the spectrum being tested is more useful for short-range applications than long-distance communication. The architecture that Google is using requires many cells, he said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google could be preparing to deploy Wi-Fi hotspots for its Google Fiber subscribers.

The last time a Google FCC filing surfaced was in June 2012, when the company was granted an extension of its January 2012 filing to test a "next-generation personal communications device." Google also was testing "an entertainment device" at the time. The "entertainment device" turned out to be Google's Nexus Q streaming media appliance. It was introduced in June 2012 at Google I/O and abandoned four months later following criticism of its high price and lack of features.

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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