September 21, 2005 8:00 AM PDT
Google builds an empire to rival Microsoft
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centers," said Kraus, chief executive of online start-up JotSpot.
"A lot of people have talked about Google's core ability to host thousands of applications and being your desktop in the sky," he said. "They certainly never fail to take advantage of it when launching new products."
Google also has invested in Current Communications Group, a provider of broadband-over-power-line technology. In addition, there are rumors that Google is eyeing satellite, technology that drives its 3D Google Earth application.
"They said, back when they invested in the Internet-over-power-lines company, that part of their corporate mission is 'promoting universal access to the Internet for users,'" said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch. "They seem to think they need to make sure everybody can get online, and running your own network certainly makes that a lot easier."
This week, Google quietly launched Google Secure Access, a beta version of a downloadable client application that allows users to establish a secure, encrypted network connection while using a Wi-Fi wireless network. The program can be downloaded at certain Google Wi-Fi locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Google said, without stating exactly where those locations are.
The company also has been working with San Francisco company Feeva on Wi-Fi access since earlier this year, Feeva spokesman Keith Kamisugi confirmed Tuesday. He declined to elaborate, except to say that Feeva and Google offer a free Wi-Fi hot spot at the trendy Union Square shopping area in downtown San Francisco. People who connect to the network see a Google Search splash page, Kamisugi said.
Google spokesman Nate Tyler told Reuters that it was running a limited test of a free wireless Internet service, called Google Wi-Fi, with hot spots in a pizza parlor and a gym located near the company's headquarters.
Google also recently purchased Android, a wireless software start-up, and was looking to hire a global infrastructure strategic negotiator to ink dark fiber contracts as part of a "global backbone network."
Offering Internet access gets more potential Google users online and gives the company another way to target consumers with ads, particularly location-based advertisements for wireless users.
Google, which tends to keep long-term plans under wraps, did not return an e-mail seeking comment for this story.
(Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)
Some people speculate the company will use the dark fiber to build a massive nationwide network that would rival those of some of the largest Internet backbone providers such as MCI and AT&T. As that theory goes, Google would use this network to shuttle traffic across the country between its data centers. Then it would use a wireless network to distribute the content locally to end users.
Voice over Internet communications is also a likely target, analysts said.
"If the traffic is flowing across the Internet, you have no idea how many routers the traffic has gone through, which can impact the quality of the call," said Michael Howard, an analyst at Infonetics Research. "But if the traffic travels on your own network, you can control the quality. That could be reason enough to build a network."
"It's pretty evident that they will have some play in video distribution. How that's going to come out is still a mystery," said Vamsi Sistla, director of broadband and digital home/media at ABI Research.
Like many other large companies with high bandwidth needs, Google could be building its own network simply to be saving money.
"I would imagine that Google must be paying someone a lot of money to keep its data centers running and in sync," Howard said. "So it makes perfect sense for them to build a network themselves to connect their data centers."
Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, who predicts Google will eventually develop a Google phone, said becoming an application delivery platform would be "part of (Google's) intellectual property DNA."
"If they built out a hosting platform for people to upload all kinds of content that could be searched by Google and monetized by Google, like video and podcasts...it takes money to do, and with the search capabilities as their strong suit it could be something they could do," Weiner said. "Google could say, 'We'll host it for you; you point to us.' That could be huge."
CNET News.com's Marguerite Reardon and Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.
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