Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) wants to test an experimental wireless network on its Mountain View, Calif., campus using spectrum leased by Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR). The details of the test are unclear, and the situation further deepens intrigue around the search giant's interest in wireless technology.
According to documents Google filed with the FCC, Google is seeking an experimental license for an "experimental radio service." The documents were first uncovered by wireless engineer Steven Crowley. The documents request a two-year trial period and note that Google is using spectrum that runs from 2524-2546 MHz and 2567-2625 MHz. Those frequencies are owned by several universities but are leased to Clearwire, according to BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk.
It is unclear whether Google and Clearwire are coordinating on the trials. Neither company would comment on the experiment, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google had been a Clearwire shareholder but sold its stake in the company early in 2012 for a $433.5 million loss on its 2008 investment of $500 million.
Why is Google conducting experiments with wireless? That is also not clear, especially because many of the filings and exhibits Google made with the FCC are marked confidential or are redacted. However, Google's request for confidential treatment notes that "the information for which confidential treatment is sought concerns the highly competitive consumer electronics market" and that "disclosure of the information would reveal confidential trade secrets, technical information, and business information, resulting in disruption of Google's vendor relationships in the highly competitive consumer electronics market."
Since Clearwire is moving toward using LTE technology on its spectrum, it is reasonable to assume that Google is testing LTE service of some kind. Crowley notes that the emission designation Google used in its application, "F9W," is sometimes a stand-in for LTE. "The only reason to use these frequencies is if you have business designs on some mobile service," Crowley told the Journal.
There have been indications that Google may want to launch some kind of commercial wireless service. In November, the Journal reported that Google and Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) held talks about collaborating on a wireless broadband service. Dish controls 40 MHz of AWS-4 spectrum, and has also made a counterbid for Clearwire, challenging Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), Clearwire's majority owner.
Google might also want to launch a limited wireless network in a small number of markets to complement the Google Fiber service, which offers super-fast fixed broadband service in Kansas City. "When we visited the trial in Kansas City in November it seemed obvious that wireless would be a logical extension of their fiber deployment," Piecyk wrote. "Hanging high capacity wireless radios off its newly deployed fiber could further leverage the investment and more appropriately reflects how and where customers are increasingly accessing the Internet."
- see this FCC application
- see this FCC filing
- see this blog post
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)- see this BTIG post (reg. req.)
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