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Summary:

Gigaom has learned Google’s plans to offer business Wi-Fi services in a very Google-like way. It’s building a virtual Wi-Fi network in the cloud that could connect hundreds of thousands of wireless nodes.

Gigaom Illustration
photo: Gigaom Illustration

Google is working with Wi-Fi equipment maker Ruckus Wireless to build a large-scale Wi-Fi network in the cloud off of which any business could hang its wireless routers, according to a source familiar with the project who asked not to be named.

Google’s plans to supply Wi-Fi services to small and medium-sized businesses was first reported by The Information on Wednesday. But I have gotten more details on what its network would look like and how it would be rolled out. Google has been working closely with Ruckus, trialing a new software-based wireless controller that virtualizes the management functions of the Wi-Fi network in the cloud, according to my source. The end result would be a nationwide — or even global — network that any business could join and any Google customer could access.

Both Google and Ruckus declined to comment.

Photo: Flickr / Affiliate

Photo: Flickr / Affiliate

In any large-scale Wi-Fi network, such as one rolled out in a corporate headquarters, or in an airport, a Wi-Fi controller manages access to hundreds of different Wi-Fi access points, allowing devices to connect to the network as a whole not just individual routers. By putting the controller in the cloud, Ruckus removes it from the physical network and can hook tens or even hundreds of thousands of individual access points scattered throughout the world onto the same virtual network.

For Google that means it won’t have to manage thousands of individual local business wireless networks when it starts offering up Wi-Fi services. As retail businesses attach their access points into the cloud they all become part of the same centrally managed service. Google could serve up en masse cloud-based applications such as advertising and point-of-sale payment services, which would feed them to all devices connected to Ruckus’s access points.

From the end-consumer’s point of view, the whole thing looks like one big home network: once you’re logged in securely at your dentist’s office, you’re logged in when you step into the bakery down the street or a restaurant two states over. From Google’s point of view, this could become a key component in any plan to offer an alternate wireless data service that circumvents the traditional mobile carrier industry.

A Ruckus outdoor access point (Source: Ruckus Wireless)

A Ruckus outdoor access point (Source: Ruckus Wireless)

The source told me that he couldn’t provide a timeline on when Google would launch its business Wi-Fi services – The Information said it could be as soon as this summer – but was able to confirm Google for now isn’t working with any other Wi-Fi equipment vendors besides Ruckus on the project. That could change by launch, but while big companies like Cisco System and Ericsson and small outfits like Aerohive are working on similar technologies, none of their equipment is interoperable. If Google wants to create a single unified network, it may well have to go with a single Wi-Fi equipment maker.

Our source also confirmed most of the details of The Information’s earlier report:

  • Google will offer the service to businesses for free as long as they agree to join its public network, though businesses will have to supply their own broadband connections.
  • Hotspot 2.0 will have a big role to play in the network, connecting smartphones and tablets automatically and securely to any Google-powered access point, much like they would connect to their mobile carrier’s 3G of 4G network.
  • Google will be able to provide analytics to businesses about consumers that use networks, separating out location-specific information from the data collected by the virtual network as a whole.

Google, however, will not sell Wi-Fi equipment directly to businesses as The Information suggested. Instead businesses will be responsible for supplying their own Wi-Fi access points, the source said. That means many businesses will have to replace their existing Wi-Fi gear; today Ruckus’s virtual controller only works with Ruckus access points.

This post was updated at 4:15 PM PT on Thursday and again at 2:30 on Friday to add Google’s response and update the examples of other cloud Wi-Fi vendors.

 

 

  1. Steve Ardire Thursday, May 22, 2014

    > From Google’s point of view, this could become a key component in any plan to offer an alternate wireless data service that circumvents the traditional mobile carrier industry.

    Good and sorely needed !

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  2. Awesome way to track people’s movements and deliver the most effective advertising.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Thursday, May 22, 2014

      Yep

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  3. Andrea Calcagno Thursday, May 22, 2014

    I wan to clarify that Cloud4Wi Cloud Hotspot Platform works with new and existing networks using top WiFi manufacturers such as Cisco, HP, Aruba, Ruckus, Meru, Aerohive and more.
    Thanks to the first Wi-Fi marketplace, our innovative solution allows Wi-Fi hotspot owners to monetize their networks by offering customer engagement, advertising and social media apps. With our cloud-based managed service, our partners can now deliver on the monetization promises of WiFi hotspots.

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  4. David Miller Thursday, May 22, 2014

    Amazing… A new innovation from the number #1 !!!

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    1. Jackie Spellen Friday, May 23, 2014

      Yeap… But you know the government will beat Google to this! Every store, every public place, and in every city will be Wi Fi for free!

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      1. Our slow inefficient government will not be able to beat private companies to this.

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      2. Doesn’t matter how it happens, only IF it happens. Once it does, refining and development can begin in an effort to make it neutral and secure – even from the government. ;o)

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  5. Businesses will both buy the access points and supply the broadband connection? That doesn’t sound like it would excite a lot of interest. Some data analytics are unlikely to add much excitement. I would guess there are key features of the proposed network that are omitted from this report. Perhaps Google will handle the monetization of the Hotspot 2.0 telecom connections and share that, plus advertising revenue, with the businesses? That could make it viable.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Friday, May 23, 2014

      Yeah, that is a point I hadn’t considered. If Google sells access to the network to carriers for Wi-Fi offload, it could share the returns with the businesses. But I don’t know either way.

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  6. I wonder whether they might use Globalstar’s channel 14 TLPS spectrum for the project if that gets approved by the FCC for such use…

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Friday, May 23, 2014

      Good point SBR, though I’m not sure the kinds of businesses Google would be targeting would care two whiffs about additional Wi-Fi capacity, Google’s customers (who would acually use the network) might. And for the plan to work Globalstar would need partners who can provide a lot of scale. Google definitely qualifies. I recently wrote about Globalstar’s planned network if anyone is interested: https://gigaom.com/2014/03/17/a-look-inside-globalstars-plan-to-build-an-exclusive-nationwide-wi-fi-network/

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  7. Color me skeptical.

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  8. Sebastiano Bertani Friday, May 23, 2014

    Nice initiative, and Ruckus hardware really rocks. We agree: interoperability would be appreciated.

    Maybe we can add some value: in 2011 we brought to market Tanaza (www.tanaza.com), the first cloud-based platform that adds IT cloud-management capabilities to affordable consumer-grade hardware. It works as a vendor-agnostic add-on that adds a bit of the Meraki magic to Ubiquiti, TP-Link, Mikrotik and other hardware vendors Wi-Fi Routers and Access Points.

    As Andrea pointed out, Cloud4Wi provides a hotspot application that works with Cisco or Aerohive and other vendors. Tanaza is proud to be partner of Cloud4Wi and to enable such great hotspot application on top of affordable hardware infrastructures, cloud-managed thanks to Tanaza.

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  9. Why not take a cue and march over Google, if you can ; Google does not prevent ! It is upto your imaginable inventing Genius !

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  10. Not exactly understanding how this is functionaly different than the already massively-connected network of computers all around the world we call “the internet”

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    1. Geoff Schaadt Friday, May 23, 2014

      This might have legs because a universe of small businesses are out there who would love to offer wifi to customers, but they just don’t have the technical expertise to administer (properly) a public facing network with all the risks inherent. Certainly there are a lot of vendors available to hire for this task, but it’s one more expense, and how do we vet them, etc, etc. Everyone knows Google – let them do it, and the price point is perfect!

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