by Amir Efrati
May 24, 2013
Anton Troianovski contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared May 25, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S.
edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Google Pushes Into
Google Inc. is deep into a multipronged effort to build and help
run wireless networks in emerging markets as part of a plan to connect a
billion or more new people to the Internet.
Google Inc. is working to build and help run wireless networks
markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia,
connecting a billion
or more new people to the Internet.
WSJ's Amir Efrati reports.
These wireless networks would serve areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and
Southeast Asia to dwellers outside of major cities where wired Internet
connections aren't available, said people familiar with the strategy.
The networks also could be used to improve Internet speeds in urban centers,
these people said.
Google plans to team up with local telecommunications firms and equipment
providers in the emerging markets to develop the networks, as well as create
business models to support them, these people said. It is unclear whether
Google already has lined up such deals or alliances.
A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
In some cases, Google aims to use airwaves reserved for television
broadcasts, but only if government regulators allowed it, these people said.
The company has begun talking to regulators in countries such as South
Africa and Kenya about changing current rules to allow such networks to be
built en masse. Some wireless executives say they expect such changes to
happen in the coming years.
As part of the plan, Google has been working on building an ecosystem of new
microprocessors and low-cost smartphones powered by its Android mobile
operating system to connect to the wireless networks, these people said.
the Internet search giant has worked on making special balloons or blimps,
known as high-altitude platforms, to transmit signals to an area of hundreds
of square miles, though such a network would involve frequencies other than
the TV broadcast ones.
Google has also considered helping to create a satellite-based network, some
of these people said.
"There's not going to be one technology that will be the silver bullet,"
meaning that each market will require a unique solution, said one person
familiar with Google's plans.
The activities underscore how the Web search giant is increasingly aiming to
have control over every aspect of a person's connection to the Web across
Google is deep into a multipronged effort to build and help run wireless
networks in emerging markets.
The Mountain View, Calif. company now makes its own smartphones and tablets
through its Motorola Mobility unit. It owns Android, the most-used mobile
operating system for smartphones, and it is also preparing to sell Google
Glass, a wearable device for people's faces that it hopes will transform
Connecting more people to the Web world-wide creates more potential users of
its Web-search engine and other services such as YouTube and its Google Play
media and app store. More than half of the world's population doesn't use
the Web, particularly in developing nations, researchers say.
More Internet users, in turn, would drive online advertising on many of
Google's services. The company currently derives 87% of its annual $50
billion in revenue from selling online ads.
Google's expansion can also net more data about consumer behavior, which can
be used to create more personalized services and target individuals with
more relevant advertising, said Narayanan Shivakumar, a former Google
engineering executive. And by profiting from data it gleans from how people
use a network it operates, Google could build a business more cheaply than
traditional carriers do today.
Providing wireless networks would allow Google to circumvent incumbent cable
companies and wireless carriers. Such companies, particularly in the U.S.
and Europe, have clashed with Google, believing it is unfairly reaping
profits on the back of their networks. Google has long feared such companies
would make it harder for its Web services to work properly on the networks,
said people with direct knowledge of the matter.
In the U.S., Google has deployed its own fiber-optic cables to wire up homes
in cities in Kansas with high-speed Internet and video, and it has plans to
do the same in cities in Missouri, Texas and Utah and elsewhere.
plans to launch powerful Wi-Fi networks in those markets that piggyback on
its wired network, allowing anyone to use their mobile device to access the
Web while they are in public spaces, said people familiar with the matter.
In mid-2011, Google also engaged in advanced discussions to buy rights to
the airwaves, or spectrum, owned by wireless operator Clearwire Corp. according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The talks
ended without a deal as Google pursued its blockbuster acquisition of
And last year, Google held talks with satellite-TV provider Dish Network
Corp. to partner on a new U.S. wireless service that might rival
the networks of carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, people
familiar with the matter have said.
Separately, Google also has made financial investments in
Internet-access-related startups such as O3b Networks Ltd. O3b this year
will launch special satellites that would broadcast signals to power new
networks operated by telecom companies for remote areas of developing
countries around the world.
The drive to be a vertical player starts at the top of Google. Chief
Executive Larry Page for years has spearheaded secret research on
alternative methods to provide more people with Internet access, and has
become more active in thinking about providing wireless Internet access to
consumers, said people familiar with the matter.
The initiatives have since become more serious and are being led by Google's
"access" unit, the Google X lab led by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and
Google.org, the company's nonprofit arm, these people said.
Google sees its revenue-generating Web services as "inextricably linked to
the infrastructure" of the pipes that bring the Web to people's devices,
said David Callisch, a marketing executive at Ruckus Wireless Inc. which helps build wireless Internet networks and has worked with
Google on Wi-Fi projects.
Some of Google's steps toward giving emerging markets wireless access are
public, with the company working with other organizations to convince
governments in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia to change regulations
to create new wireless networks using previously restricted airwaves.
has long been involved in public trials to prove the technology - which
operates at lower frequencies than some cell networks, allowing signals to
be more easily transmitted through buildings and other obstacles and across
longer distances - can work.
Microsoft Corp., normally archrivals, have cooperated
to bring government leaders and wireless-industry entrepreneurs together to
consider ways to open up the broadcast airwaves for public use.
the companies are hosting a two-day conference in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss
the issue with regulators from numerous countries.
Google has also funded and conducted several small-scale trials, many of
them public, involving wireless networks that use TV broadcast airwaves in
the U.S. and beyond. Microsoft, which has its own Web services such as Bing
search and Skype video chat, also is conducting such trials in Africa.
One of Google's trials is in Cape Town, South Africa, involving a "base
station" that broadcasts the signals with a range of several miles, and
wireless access points, or small boxes that receive the signals.
The access points, made by a California company called Carlson Wireless
Technologies Inc., are located at 10 elementary schools and high schools and
allow thousands of students to receive high-speed Internet access via
Ethernet cables or Wi-Fi routers. The system is controlled by Google
software that automatically recognizes which TV broadcast airwaves in the
area aren't being used at a given moment and can be used for the network.
Arno Hart, who manages the trial on behalf of the Tertiary Education and
Research Network of South Africa, which operates wired Internet services for
educational institutions, said it began in February and has "gone really,
In a blog post last year announcing the trial, Google said the technology
"well-suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with
poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of
wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas."
For such wireless networks, Google has publicly supported the possibility of
using small, inexpensive cellular devices, called "micro cells" that would
be located at the access points and would harness the TV airwaves to
broadcast the equivalent of a 3G or 4G wireless signal for devices within a
Google's Plan to Float 'Blimp Network'
by Bill Ray
29 May 2013
Google is poised to flood Africa with uncontrolled connectivity via TV
Space frequencies, according the Wall Street Journal, though other wireless
technologies will contribute to the mix.
The report, citing the usual "people familiar", doesn't say how much
Mountain View will be investing in the project, only that it will blanket
rural areas - including sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia - and will
probably rely on a variety of techniques for backhaul, including
high-altitude platforms (blimps) and satellites.
Realistically, such esoteric technologies will only be needed in the most
rural of areas; they're unnecessary anywhere a microwave relay can be sited
with a reliable power feed (and not stolen).
More than a billion people live
in such areas, and White Space spectrum is the ideal way to address the last
20, 30 or 40 miles of connectivity.
White Spaces are radio frequencies not being used locally for TV
transmissions, resulting from a historical anomaly. TV was an early claimant
on radio frequencies and thus got allocated some of the best bands, in the
500MHz to 600MHz region, so those bands have always been off limits for
White Space networks get around that problem by using an online database of
available frequencies. A base station, once it's connected to the
microwave/blimp/satellite, reports its GPS coordinates and the protocol it
would like to use.
The database then responds with an available frequency
and maximum permitted transmission power, to prevent interference with TV
signals further away. The base station passes that information on to its
client devices and the network is live.
The clients can be tens of miles away, but as the signals can easily pass
through walls and trees, direct line of sight isn't needed. Hills will still
block transmission, and the curvature of the Earth can also be an issue
(though some curvature of signal is possible).
The kit is really cheap
though and there's a wealth of existing knowledge about how to improve
reception in the TV bands.
Google has already run trials using White Space in South Africa, and
Microsoft has also been linking up schools in the area (and making
heart-warming videos about it), but both companies are running databases in
the United States, where White Space radios recently became legal, and the
UK, where they should be legal by the end of 2013.
These companies are particularly keen on
White Space technology as it is
being deployed licence-free, and thus beyond the control of the incumbent
The UK has been leading the world in the technology, but spectrum regulator
Ofcom has been overwhelmed by the Olympics and 4G auctions, so is lagging
slightly in permitting the exploitation of White Space frequencies.
Africa desperately needs more connectivity, and it's entirely unsurprising
to find Google jumping in to provide it.
Until we know the scale of the
investment we can't say how significant this news is, but it's clear that
White Space will play an important role in bringing the light of the
internet to the Dark Continent.