Future Tense

Google Fiber Takes to the Skies

Is this where your internet will come from?

Thinkstock/oluolu3

Tired of digging up front lawns and fighting over telephone poles, Google Fiber is expanding its plan to include the transmission of super-fast internet through the air.

So far, Google Fiber has built out its municipal internet service in a half-dozen U.S. cities by laying cables in the ground or stringing them along utility poles. Depending on your package, it can be cheaper than buying internet from Comcast or Verizon, and it’s much, much faster than traditional service. Naturally, it’s not a money-maker for Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in part because of the high costs of expanding the network.

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So the model is changing. The next rounds of expansion—to cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas—will be predicated on wireless transmission, the Wall Street Journal reports. Roll-outs in San Jose and Silicon Valley in California, and Portland, Oregon, have been suspended as the company adjusts its tactics.

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It’s all happened very fast: In February, Google applied for Federal Communications Commission permission to test experimental transmitters in Kansas City, Missouri. In April, Google Fiber got permission from the Kansas City Council to conduct a two-year trial of wireless internet beamed from antennae mounted on light poles and other structures, both indoors and out. Those transmissions will take place on a slice of spectrum in the 3.5-GHz band called the “Citizens Broadband Radio Service,” which the FCC opened up in 2015. In June, Google Fiber acquired Webpass, a wireless internet service provider that combines landline ethernet with beams of internet between rooftop transmitters. Two weeks ago, in a filing with the FCC first spotted by Business Insider, Google asked for approval to test wireless transmitters in two dozen cities.

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The filing indicates Google Fiber plans initial deployment in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and San Jose, as well as in Boulder, Colorado; Kansas City, Kansas; Omaha; Raleigh; Provo, Utah; and Reston, Virginia. This isn’t a substitute for Fiber, at least for now—the filing is for a volunteer group of “trusted testers” and rules out any commercial operations. Still, it suggests a potentially revolutionary technology with a “radius of operations” that extends up to 24 miles from the transmitter. Google is also seeking permission to test in some of the nation’s largest cities, including Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Austin.

According to a timeline that Google presented to Kansas City leaders this spring, testing wasn’t supposed to begin until November 2017. But the latest filing—and the stalled projects in San Jose, Portland and elsewhere—suggests the company wants to figure out its approach to internet in the sky before it keeps digging in the ground.

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