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Google Doubling Down on Internet Access for the Masses

Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot of news about how well the U.S. economy is doing and most economists agree that the Great Recession is over and we’re moving into a period of high growth.  I’m not an economist by any means, but I do watch the technology tea leaves to see if things are improving and I have to agree that all signs point to a robust economic improvement.  What do I watch for?  The number of startups that come from major universities, which act something like incubators, nurturing researchers and their projects until they are ready to go mainstream with whatever they’ve developed in their labs.  In fact, it’s hard to believe that this year marks 20 years since Larry Paige and Sergey Bring got together while attending Stanford University is Palo Alto, California to start what would later become Google, a company that we still consider to be one of the most cutting edge tech firms in the world.  Technically, Google was formed in 1998 but Larry and Sergey started working together much earlier while pursuing their doctorates at Stanford.

You know, it’s a classic tech startup story.  Sergey came to this country with his family from Russia when he was six, and Larry grew up in the mid-west.  Both of them loved computers and went to Stanford to study but instead they developed the algorithms that become the core of the Google search engine, left school and started Google in a neighbor’s garage.  The rest is history, as they say. The Google search engine was only the start of their success, though.  Since then, Google has become a powerhouse technology company, constantly innovating without fear, delving into all sorts of things like driverless cars, 3D glasses, drones and even becoming an Internet Access Provider or ISP, offering their famous, super high-speed Google Fiber to select local markets.

In fact, Google is aggressively getting into the ISP business.  Not only are they offering Google Fiber to more cities, they are looking for more ways to expand access to the Internet. Google just announced that they are partnering with Sprint and T-Mobile, two wireless cellular companies, to offer inexpensive voice, text and data services to customers using Google’s Android smartphones. Basically, Google is going to buy bulk cellular services from both carriers and then build its own network on top of their services, allowing Google phones to use whichever carrier offers the best service in the area.  If you use it, your phone would essentially detect which of the two happens to have the strongest signal where you are at and use that carrier.  The deal would make Google the fifth largest cellular carrier in the U.S.

Google is also petitioning the Federal Communications Commission or FCC to make available additional wireless spectrum for public use.  As you know, the federal government dictates who can use portions of the wireless radio spectrum.  Some of it is reserved for licensed use, like for TV and radio broadcasts, and some of it is considered unlicensed, meaning it can be used by anyone for wireless transmissions, from the wireless phone in your home to the WiFi networks that seem to be everywhere.  Google wants more unlicensed wireless made available so that can use it to provide wireless Internet.

And Google’s ambitions go beyond the United States.  They just announced that they are partnering with Elon Musk’s SpaceX company to build a network of up to 5000 satellites that would orbit the planet to provide wireless Internet access globally within five years.  Not only would the global network give Internet access to the remotest places in the world, much of which has never had Internet access, it will also create a wireless network that theoretically is free of government censorship. Imagine what that’s going to mean to people in China and North Korea!

The funny thing is, Google doesn’t really want to be in the ISP business. Instead, they see it as a means to an end: by bringing billions of new people online, the internet services that Google provides that make up the bread and butter of the company will have that many more subscribers and users.  Google wants everyone to be connected so they can use Google’s stuff!

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