If you've read John Dvorak's PC Magazine columns for long enough (and I have, for many years), you would know that adjectives like "timid" and "reticent" aren't usually the first ones that leap to mind when describing his writing style. Dvorak always lets you know where he stands on an issue. So it was good to see a recent column of his in which he elaborated on a theme that we discussed some time ago--the consequences, or "hidden consequences," as he calls them--of Google's urban WiFi strategy.
He faults the journalistic coverage of Google's effort to turn its Mountain View back yard into a hot zone for overlooking the hidden consequences of the company's effort. "These are consequences that should scare the crap out of the telecos and the cable companies," he writes. Here they are:
- Google now has a template for how to light up a city. Google engineers have the architecture which, with some tweaking here and some nudging there, could be used in even more efficient future rollouts.
- If Google discovers that localized service combined with localized search and local advertising not only cover the cost but actually bring in profits, we may be on the verge of a new gold rush here, and other companies will feel compelled to follow--Microsoft, Ask, and Yahoo! among them.
- Google plans to follow a model which was tried by cable modem pioneer @Home, which was premature for its time. Since Google, MSN, Yahoo!, and others have already been experimenting with VoIP, it wouldn't take long for them to offer people free phone service along with free Internet access, cutting out the phone companies. What with 802.11n coming, there's no reason why Google and others wouldn't also offer an IPTV package, cutting out the cable companies in the process, as well. After all, one needs only 30 Mbps to do this, and that includes HDTV service. 802.11n, when fully finalized, will deliver 300 to 600 Mbps.
Analysts who probed more deeply into the meaning and consequences of Google's free WiFi offering tended to focus on the Big Brother aspects of the company's location-tracking advertising system which came bundled with Google's offerings. Now there is another deep but emerging current to note: The challenge an 802.11n-based muni-WiFi system would pose to incumbent telecoms and cable providers.