Google is paying US$400 million to acquire Wi-Fi access provider ICOA, which owns or operates over 1,500 wireless hotspots and hot zones in the U.S.
The search giant and smartphone OS developer isn't proving details on its plans for those assets. Google officials were not immediately available to answer questions about the ICOA deal, which was announced Monday.
This isn't the first time, however, that Google has dabbled in wireless Internet access. It already offers a free wireless Internet service in Mountain View, California, called Google WiFi.
In June, Google signed a deal with Wi-Fi operator Boingo Wireless that allows New Yorkers to access Boingo's network of hotspots for free. In September, Google signed another deal with Boingo that included access to 4,000 hotspots across the U.S for a limited period.
The deal to acquire ICOA would allow Google to offer free access using its own network and compete with operators, albeit on a limited basis if it doesn't decide to expand coverage significantly.
As the amount of data traffic increases, so has also the importance of Wi-Fi as a way to offload cellular networks.
Mobile operators are working to better integrate cellular and Wi-Fi networks by allowing users to access both types of networks using their phone SIM cards, which would make it more difficult for Wi-Fi operators to compete.
ICOA's access points are located in airports, quick-service restaurants, hotels and motels, travel plazas and marinas. The company also provides back office solutions for hotspot operators and wireless service providers, according to a statement.
Google is also offering fiber-based television services and Internet access in Kansas City.
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