No Google deed goes unpunished

26 May 2013 by Steve Blum
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When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Google is under pressure to upgrade the free WiFi system it installed in its hometown of Mountain View, California in 2006. Complaints in online forums have been accumulating, and The Mountain View Voice reports improvements are in the pipeline.

At least part of the problem is online video streaming. The Tropos mesh WiFi network equipment was state-of-the-art seven years ago, but bandwidth needs were quite a bit lower then. There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that one of the Internet’s biggest bandwidth hogs is Google’s YouTube service, but it’s not like anyone is being ripped off. The service is free. As in beer.

System specs are in the same ballpark as a free WiFi system recently installed in nearby Santa Clara by the municipal electric utility. Wisely, the city keeps expectations low, positioning the service as a handy amenity, good for checking email or other low bandwidth applications, but not a substitute for fast wireline or mobile subscriptions. In 2006, the performance of Google’s Mountain View service was closer to the paid competition, so many people came to rely on it as their primary way of getting online. They’re the ones feeling the crunch now.

There might be a sound business basis for upgrading. Google learned a lot from the data it gathered about how particular places heat up and cool down over the course of the day, and how traffic rises and falls. The value of that information should have offset the system’s low seven-figure price tag, and doing it again with today’s technology is likely to pay off too.

Of course, at the rate bandwidth demand is growing and technology is improving, it’ll probably be a lot less than seven years before any new system bogs down. And once people start thinking a free service isn’t worth the price they’re paying, Google will hear from them again.