Google, Facebook separately testing wireless broadband projects that may eventually prove disruptive

Google and Facebook are separately testing wireless broadband technologies that expand on fixed-line networks. And at least one of them may eventually threaten mobile network operators.

Re/code reports Google is looking to leverage its Fiber network by connecting wireless towers to existing lines to beam wireless broadband connectivity directly into homes. The company is "experimenting with a number of different wireless technologies," Google executive Craig Barratt told the outlet, in an effort to provide broadband access without incurring the costs of running fixed lines directly into homes and other buildings.

Meanwhile, The Mercury News reported this week that Facebook is testing a technology it calls Terragraph, which is designed to increase Wi-Fi capacity in densely populated areas. The offering, which thus far has been tested only on Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., uses small metal boxes attached to existing FiOS lines.

The boxes transmit data signals wirelessly to each other to strengthen Wi-Fi signals. The offering, which will be tested in downtown San Jose later this year, is currently available only outdoors but could eventually be developed for in-building use.

Facebook hopes to expand the service to underserved areas where residents don't have reliable wireless access to the web.

Unlike Facebook, though, Google makes no secret of the fact that it hopes to grow the initiative from an experiment into "a real business" by developing and operating a wireless network. Google is predictably coy about any details regarding its strategy, but Barratt said the company can "absolutely" expand its service to cities where Fiber currently exists or where the company has announced plans to deploy fixed lines.

Wi-Fi isn't a massive threat to cellular service providers, of course, because it isn't ubiquitous and doesn't provide seamless connectivity on the go. And it's unclear whether Google has plans to develop a wireless service based on fixed lines that would provide for true mobility. But while Facebook claims it isn't interested in building a nationwide network, Google certainly appears to be pursuing something very ambitious – and, perhaps, disruptive to legacy mobile service providers.

For more:
- see this Re/code interview
- read this Mercury News report

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