Blog Post

Google launches WiFi Network in Mountain View

Less than a year after the search engine giant said that it would unwire its hometown of Mountain View, California, GoogleFi is now open for packets.

The Mountain View network that cost nearly a million dollars to build went live at 9pm PST today. In order to use the network, the users will need a Google login, and those who don’t have Google ID, will be given a chance to sign up for the service, company officials said in an interview.

Chris Sacca, Head of Special Initiatives at Google says that at present the company is offering a one-megabit per second connection for everyone, and will tweak the capacity depending on how people use the network. For instance if a lot of people are watching online videos, then the capacity might get a booster shot.

GigaOM writer Katie Fehrenbacher has been on the story and has tested the network, and gives the network two thumbs up. She was able to make Skype and SIP calls using the network, and found connectivity good in most places. (She is busy tracking another story today, so I am picking up the pieces.) “We have had a lot of incoming requests for trying out the network, and we felt it was ready to go live,” says Sacca. The service is being launched ahead of the schedule. “We had promised it by end of the summer, but we are ready.”

The network, which covers 11.5 square miles, features 380 access points, all supplied by Tropos Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company. One in six access points is a gateway by Tel Aviv-based Alvarion. There are three bandwidth aggregation points in the network that are connected to GooglePlex using point-to-point gear from GigaBeam, an equipment vendor based in Herndon, Virginia. The network was designed by Google engineers and installed by WFI, a San Diego-based network builder.

When pressed about Google’s future plans, Sacca said the company has no national ambitions. “There are 300 RFPs out there for city wireless networks, and we are not participating in one of them,” he said. For instance, the company is not participating in the Smart Valley project, which will provide wireless across a major swath of Silicon Valley Bay Area. San Francisco wireless network however is part of the plan.

Google, Sacca said just wanted to be a catalyst, just like it wants to catalyze the location-based services. The company is working closely with start-ups such as Flagr and Meetro. Sacca said the goal was to turn Mountain View into a large-scale test bed for various WiFi enabled devices that are coming to market. For instance, the makers of Pepper Pad, a web-tablet device that is expected to come to market soon will be giving out devices for tests in Mountain View.

10 Responses to “Google launches WiFi Network in Mountain View”

  1. I drove around Mtn View earlier today to test how well the Google WiFi network worked for mobile users.

    For mobile users, the WiFi network is very impressive, imho. Even with a very low-power WiFi card on my laptop, the connection was impressive. Trees seem to attenuate the signals considerably. If I could see a Google node, I could connect to it. If I didn’t see the node, the connection was weak.

    Google should not use the MAC address to authenticate users – that sounds a little bit extreme.

    Test setup
    * I hooked up my laptop to the Google WiFi network using an old Cisco Aironet 350 802.11b card.
    * I used SkypeOut to call my home phone #.
    * The laptop and I both stayed in the car.

    The drive
    * I drove a little bit on the West side of El Camino Real (around Castro Street), but mostly on El Camino Real and on the East side of El Camino on Castro Street, Shoreline Blvd, Rengstorff Avenues and streets perpendicular to those. I also drove on Central Expressway between Rengstorff Ave. and Castro St.
    * I stayed close to areas where the mesh nodes have been installed and did not venture into areas where the Google network is not yet established.

    * Good connection: The connection was very good in the vicinity of the network nodes/access points and also fairly continuous on streets where there were sufficient street lights and network nodes and few trees. I could talk uninterrupted via Skype in these areas.
    * Trees problematic: Even when the node density was high, if the street was tree-lined, the voice packets would not go through, though the connection would not drop.
    * Works at 35mph: I drove at up to 35 mph speed and the connection wasn’t significantly different at that speed compared to slower speeds.
    * MAC address authentication?: I authenticated myself via the browser the first time I got on to the network (gave my gmail id). Thereafter, it would let me on to the network even if I removed all the cookies and restarted my computer. It seems that Google is using the MAC address of the WiFi card to authenticate me on to the network.
    * Central Expressway: The connection was poor along the Central Expressway since it has few light poles and many trees. The node density is not very high along Central Expressway (

    Comparison with other municipal WiFi networks
    * Corpus Christi, TX: I have used the WiFi network in Corpus Christi, TX (also set up by Tropos Networks, the same company that provided equipment for Mtn View). I tested the Corpus Chrsti network last year and found it to be much spottier than the Mtn View network. Looks like Tropos is using newer equipment and has tuned the Mtn View network much better.
    * Palo Alto, CA: Firetide is setting up a WiFi mesh network for public safety purposes in 2 sq miles of Palo Alto around California Ave. The Firetide network is still being installed and tuned. So far, the Mtn View network performs slightly better than the Firetide network.

    Next steps
    * I will test with a higher powered (200 mW) WiFi card and a higher gain antenna tomorrow. My guess is that the trees won’t be an issue with that type of a setup. Watch this space.

    * WiFi networks are tough to set up and maintain.
    * You need a little extra power and better antennas, but you can do lots of cool mobile applications in a properly tuned WiFi network.
    * The Mtn View Google WiFi network is well-tuned and one of the best when it comes to municipal WiFi networks.

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    Thyaga, as for point #2 — that is what VPN is for. One could only hope that a boss who cares about security is willing fork over the small amount of money needed to hook his employees up with VPN access. Anyway, all bandwidth is shared anyway once you get to the Internet. Bottom line: if security is an issue, use a VPN.

  3. Well, firstly this is great news. Just like the Open Source movement made code FREE for all developers, Google is making Internet Connectivity FREE too. So, really “all 10 thumbs up” for that :).

    So, what could be the impact of this:

    (1). Companies like T-Mobile which use Starbucks as their channel to provide Wi-Fi connections are charge for it, are going to be the biggest loser – the Starbucks down the road has so many “developers” drinking coffee and hacking away on some code :). From now on, they just have to pay for the coffee !

    (2). Although the connectivity is free, you will definitely be sharing the bandwidth – so, be cautioned about the security issues here. Your Boss may not like the idea that you are communicating your Web 2.0 hacks and ideas through this shared bandwidth – ouch !

    Otherwise, this is a great idea.

    Starbucks with Google Wi-Fi anyone? – I will be there :)

    — Thyaga

  4. Very cool. Thanks for this informative article. VoWMesh works!

    I suppose this makes a statement for this technology. And WMesh tech is getting better too.

    I gather Google will be partnering, rather than operating, other municipal projects?