Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is reportedly preparing to subsidize commercial-grade Wi-Fi gear and software for small- and medium-size businesses, possibly in exchange for having Wi-Fi users use their Google accounts to sign into those businesses' Wi-Fi hotspots, which will in turn help Google better target advertising to them.
The plan was reported by The Information, which cited a confidential document it has reviewed and information from an anonymous informant who had been briefed on the project.
Google could launch the offering this summer, according to the article. As with other managed services programs for Wi-Fi hotspots, Google apparently intends to share user information with business and venue owners, which they in turn could use for marketing to visitors.
Google is allegedly targeting the offering to a wide breadth of businesses in the U.S. and abroad, including restaurants and possibly even public institutions such as libraries. The service would integrate Hotspot 2.0 technology, so users who log into a Google Wi-Fi hotspot once could from then on log in automatically to any other Google Wi-Fi hotspot as well as networks run by Google partners.
In addition to providing discounted Wi-Fi access equipment, Google will enable businesses to oversee their Wi-Fi networks via the Web using the Google Compute Engine, said The Information.
The Google Access unit, which also oversees Google Fiber deployments, is allegedly developing the service. According to documents unearthed last month by IDG News Service, Google is planning to add Wi-Fi capabilities to its rollout of fiber connections in select cities across the country.
The managed Wi-Fi services Google is reportedly contemplating differs markedly from the Wi-Fi service it provides in many U.S. Starbucks Coffee locations, where Google is the actual provider of Internet service for patrons of company-owned stores.
However, it has been rumored that Google is building Android and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS versions of an app that enables automatic authentication and connections to Google hotspots located within Starbucks Stores or anywhere else they might be deployed. That app would likely use Hotspot 2.0 technology and, if true, could provide a selling point to businesses interested in signing up for a Google managed Wi-Fi service, since anyone who uses a Google hotspot in a Starbucks could automatically connect to any other hotspots that Google manages.
Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has also tried using Wi-Fi hotspots to build its advertising business by convincing Wi-Fi users to give up information regarding their location in exchange for free Wi-Fi service. Last spring, the company began asking Wi-Fi users to "check in"--as they might with foursquare--using their Facebook account at the business location they are visiting. Upon doing so, or after they click a small opt-out link, they were granted wireless Internet access. Facebook Wi-Fi is currently available on Cisco Meraki wireless products, Cisco ISR G2 and ASR 1000 Series routers and Netgear R6300 Smart WiFi router.
The business of managing Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, recently attracting new platform providers including Ruckus Wireless and Cloud4Wi, which have devised products to help managed services providers (MSPs) get in on the action. In addition, Aerohive Networks, which markets managed Wi-Fi service to enterprises, attracted $75 million for its initial public offering in March.
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