A Wi-Fi network built by Google was launched on Wednesday and now provides free broadband wireless access to the search engine giant's home city in California
Google's network includes 380 access points throughout the city of Mountain View, which has about 72,000 residents and covers a 12-square mile area, said Chris Sacca, Google's head of special initiatives.
It will offer 1M bps (bit per second) of throughput both upstream and downstream, and that capacity can be increased if necessary, he said.
Google had been shooting for mid-September for the service's official launch, but it wrapped up its final tests ahead of time. About 1,000 people participated in the service's test phase, he said.
Starting Wednesday, people with Wi-Fi devices will be able to pick up the Google network's signal and sign in with their Google account user ID and password.
Those who don't have a Google account will be able to create one by simply choosing a password and entering an e-mail address. If they don't have an e-mail address, they will be able to create one as well, he said.
Google has no plans to deliver online ads to the network's users and it isn't charging the city anything for building the network. In fact, the city stands to receive payments from Google for the placement of equipment on city-owned light poles, Mountain View officials have said in the past. Moreover, Google will cover maintenance and utility costs.
"We have no business plan for this network," Sacca said. Google hopes to benefit indirectly by the increased availability of Internet access, and it believes it is contributing to its home city, where more than 1,000 of its employees live, he said.
People should be able to reach the network inside their homes, to some degree. "Wi-Fi signals are irregular and hard to predict, so coverage varies depending on where you are, how close the node happens to be and what your house is made of," Sacca said.
Residents can buy inexpensive repeater devices to boost and extend the reception inside their homes, he said.
San Francisco, about 40 miles north of Mountain View, has chosen Google and partner EarthLink to provide municipal Wi-Fi service. The companies have proposed a two-tiered service: EarthLink would offer a paid subscription service with speeds over 1M bps (bits per second) and Google would offer a 300K bps service for free. The companies are currently in negotiations with the city on the terms of the agreement.
The free service is expected to include ads, and this has triggered criticism from civil liberties advocates who are concerned that users' privacy may be compromised if ads are targeted based on their location and interests. Meanwhile, others have complained the city isn't allocating funding to help low-income users take advantage of the network.