Google Fiber Begins Free Public WiFi Tests in Kansas City

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-04-29
Free WiFi

Google Fiber Begins Free Public WiFi Tests in Kansas City

Google Fiber recently began testing a free outdoor public WiFi system outside the Crown Center mixed-use development in Kansas City, Mo., as part of an experiment to build more public WiFi systems in the Kansas City area.

A Google spokesman confirmed the presence of the new experimental WiFi system after an article about the network was published April 28 by the Kansas City Business Journal. The KCBJ report said that the network at the Crown Center, an 85-acre mixed-use development with a shopping center, office space, several hotels and a famous fountain, is already up and running in an outdoor plaza at the complex.

In response to an email inquiry from eWEEK, the Google spokeswoman said the WiFi testing began a few weeks ago and is still very much in the early stages of testing. "We want to deliver great WiFi outside, which is really hard to do. So we're using this test as an opportunity to try and make our network fast and consistent," she wrote.

For users at the busy shopping, entertainment and office complex, that means that service disruptions could occur as Google works to refine and improve the free services, the spokesman said. "So over the next few months, you might experience some hiccups or outages in service, as we work to make the network fast and consistent," she wrote. "We appreciate your patience and feedback as we test this network and make it better."

Asked when additional phases and expansions of the Kansas City free public WiFi system could come, the spokesman declined to give a timeline. "In the future, we'd like to be able to launch more WiFi zones throughout Kansas City," she wrote. "But for now, we're focused on this one test WiFi zone in the Crown Center area."

The Google Fiber team began with the WiFi deployment in the Crown Center area because it's a nonresidential area where people congregate and because Google's Fiber network has already been installed in the area, according to Google.

Earlier this month, Google began contacting local leaders in Kansas City and some 34 other U.S. cities to gauge their interest in receiving free public WiFi services as part of the Google Fiber program, according to an eWEEK report. Google Fiber raised that possibility in February 2014 when it released a "checklist" for communities that would like to have Google Fiber service come to their towns. In that checklist, Google Fiber said it was also "exploring the possibility of deploying WiFi in future Google Fiber cities. Requirements related to WiFi are not included in this checklist, but we will be discussing our WiFi plans and related requirements with your city as we move forward with your city during this planning process."

Google Fiber is now moving that idea further along, by raising it directly in letters to 34 cities that are being considered for Fiber. Google earlier told eWEEK that the company didn't have any specific plans to announce right now about the WiFi deployments. The Kansas City deployment now ends that speculation.

Google Fiber Begins Free Public WiFi Tests in Kansas City

Google announced its plans to consider 34 additional U.S. cities in nine metro areas for Fiber service back in February 2014. The 34 additional communities—which are clustered around the Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; San Antonio; Salt Lake City; and San Jose, Calif., metro areas—were invited to work with Google Fiber to see if they are interested in having the Gigabit-speed cable TV and Internet services brought to their communities for new subscribers. The specific communities within these metro areas that will actually get Google Fiber services will be chosen and announced over the next year.

Not all of the 34 communities that will now be in discussions with Google for Fiber service will ultimately get it in this round, Google announced. The issues that will impact those decisions include legal, construction, permitting, infrastructure and other local matters that have to be addressed when building a complex fiber system, according to the company.

Google Fiber's ultra-high-speed Internet and cable television services debuted in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., in the fall of 2012, according to an eWEEK report. In April 2013, Google announced that it would bring the service to Provo, Utah, just eight days after it unveiled plans to bring Google Fiber to Austin, Texas. The Provo project was the third U.S. community to be slated for Fiber service so far. Other cities, including Prairie Village, Mission Hills and Roeland Park, Kan., have also approved service plans for Google Fiber.

Google has certainly been involved in providing WiFi previously. In December 2013, the company announced plans to build and provide a free public outdoor WiFi service for some 80,000 residents in New York City's Harlem neighborhood under an initiative announced by the city. The project will cover some 95 blocks in Harlem and is being paid for by a donation from the Fuhrman Family Foundation. There will be no cost to users for the services, which are initially being funded for five years.

In August 2013, Google unveiled plans to install free WiFi inside some 7,000 company-owned Starbucks stores to replace free services that had been previously provided by AT&T. Starbucks stores located in communities that have super-high-speed Google Fiber service will get in-store WiFi connections that are even faster—up to 100 times that of existing speeds.

In July 2013, Google also presented the city of San Francisco with a $600,000 grant to build a WiFi network that will provide free WiFi throughout the city's 31 parks and open spaces. The grant will cover the cost of needed equipment, installation and maintenance of the system for two years. All 31 sites are expected to be fully completed and ready for use this spring.

Google created a free WiFi network in New York's Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, near its New York offices, back in January 2013. The system encapsulated the first Google-served neighborhood in Manhattan and at the time was slated to be the largest contiguous WiFi network in New York City, according to Google.

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