Nokia has talked about getting the next billion people online, but it's Google that's planning to build the networks.
Google is "deep into a multi-pronged effort" to build and run wireless networks in emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, according to a May 24 report from The Wall Street Journal.
Google plans to team up with telecommunications providers in various markets to develop local networks, as well as to create business models to support them, said the report.
Google would use spectrum currently reserved for television broadcasting, if government regulations allowed, though it would also consider creating a satellite-based network, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with Google's plans.
One considered idea, which would involve spectrum other than that for television, is to use blimps as "high-altitude platforms" on which to transmit signals across hundreds of square miles, said the report.
Google has been experimenting with offering broadband services in
the U.S. market. It initially launched Google Fiber in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Mo., in the fall of 2012, and in April announced that Fiber will expand to Austin, Texas, in 2014.
In January, it also expanded its WiFi network beyond its Manhattan headquarters to include the entire neighborhood of Chelsea. The free network is now available to more than 2,000 residents of a nearby public housing project, as well as more than 5,000 students.
"Communities that are connected to the Internet grow stronger because there's greater potential to create jobs, drive economic growth and help businesses succeed," Milo Medin, vice president of Google Fiber, said in an April 9 blog post announcing Google's Austin plans. "We believe the Internet's next chapter will be built on gigabit speeds, and we hope this new Google Fiber city will inspire communities across America to think about what ultra-fast connectivity could mean for them."
Bringing the Internet to developing markets would no doubt help countless communities grow, while also advancing Google's causes. Google now sells smartphones and tablets, and owns Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world. But its most lucrative business—accounting for nearly 90 percent of its $50 billion in annual revenue—is mobile ads. And with the Internet in more places, Google could sell more ads.
With its own network, Google could also learn more about user behavior, enabling it to "create more personalized services and target individuals with more relevant advertising," reported the Journal, citing former Google engineering executive Narayanan Shivakumar.
"By profiting from data it gleans from how people use a network it operates," the report continued, "Google could build a business more cheaply than traditional carriers do today."
Google's ambitions to be a vertical player, offering a network its current offerings can run on, has been a long-time initiative of CEO Larry Page, who for years has "spearheaded secret research on alternative methods to provide more people with Internet access," said the report.
The initiative has since grown more serious, it added, and been taken over by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Google's nonprofit business, Google.org.
Google has declined to comment on the matter.
Since 2011, Nokia has been talking about connecting the next 1 billion people to the Internet. Toward that purpose it has introduced its Asha line of smartphones, and in November 2012 it introduced the $42 clamshell Nokia 109. Nokia has also introduced a Nokia Ad Exchange (NAX) program for developers, which can deliver ads to more than 200 countries, and a Nokia Premium Developer Program (NPDP). The goal is a win-win situation is which users can get free apps, and developers and others make money through mobile advertising.
NAX enables developers to glean information such as the country an app is being used in and the time of day the app is used.