The ever-versatile Google officially entered the wireless ISP (WISP) business last month when the city of Mountain View - Google's hometown in the heart of Silicon Valley - unanimously accepted its non-exclusive bid to offer free Wi-Fi service to its 72,000 denizens.
During the city council meeting at which the vote was taken, a Google representative said Google hopes to have the service live by June 2006.
Google also has a bid into the City of San Francisco for providing free Wi-Fi access throughout the city.
Google, which will mount Wi-Fi mesh equipment from Tropos on about 350 light poles owned by the City of Mountain View (about a tenth of the poles throughout the city), characterises its offer largely as an altruistic move to "give back" to its community.
Wireless aficionado Andy Seybold, who heads the Andrew Seybold Group, characterises that motive as - and I'm paraphrasing - the solid excrement that comes from a male cow. His take is that the Google gesture is "all about driving eyeballs to their site."
Seybold is a staunch opponent to municipal Wi-Fi, because he says the unlicensed nature of the technology is likely to render interference an ongoing issue that causes unpredictable degradation in coverage and data speeds and drives a need for continual network upgrades.
Well, business is business, after all, and if both parties benefit (or perceive that they will benefit), who's to criticise? Mountain View citizens won't be forced to use the
service: they still have DSL, cable modem, Verizon and Sprint EV-DO services and, soon, Cingular 3G and MetroFi fee-based Wi-Fi access services available to them.
Seybold's point, though, is that users of a Wi-Fi service might suddenly have a neighboring DSL or cable modem customer installing a Wi-Fi access point in their home for residential roaming. If that access point has a stronger signal than the Google signal on the light pole outside, it could encroach on their service performance.
"There's not a damn thing anyone could do about it," Seybold says. "The law says that if you operate in an unlicensed spectrum, you must accept all interference. No one has any priority over anyone else."
Note that this would be the case whether or not city residents were paying for the Wi-Fi service or getting it free from Google or someone else. Might as well get it free, Mountain View apparently figured.