Could Google’s purchase of a wireless company boost Boston’s Internet?
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So what's Google up to in Boston now?
The Internet giant made a curious move Wednesday. Its Google Fiber unit bought a small company that provides high-speed Internet service in Boston and several other large US cities.
It's unclear though if that means Boston will finally get on the list of cities that will receive Google's super-fast fiber-optic service, which provides Internet connection speeds of 1 gigabit per second.
For one, the company Google Fiber bought, Webpass Inc., uses a wireless network to deliver Internet service to antennas mounted on rooftops, with the signal then patched through to customers using Ethernet cables. Moreover, it does not serve single-family homes or small businesses. Webpass says residential buildings should have at least 10 units to make its service economical.
In addition to Boston, Webpass provides Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to office buildings and large apartment buildings in Miami, Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco, where it is based. For residential customers the company is advertising a plan that provides service beginning at 100 megabits per second for $60 a month.
Since its rollout in 2010, Google Fiber is available in five cities: Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; Nashville; and Kansas City, Mo. Another 15 are scheduled to receive the service, but none are in the Northeast.
Neither company is saying much about Google's plans for Webpass.
"By joining forces, we can accelerate the deployment of superfast Internet connections for customers across the US," Webpass president Charles Barr said in a news release. But the company declined further comment.
Roger Entner, analyst at Recon Analytics LLC in Dedham, noted that building out a fiber network in each city is extremely expensive.
"Basically to build out a city would cost them a billion dollars," said Entner. "And even for somebody like Google, a billion dollars is a lot of money."
So, Google could save a fortune by supplementing its fiber with wireless systems such as those from Webpass that would beam Internet signals over the air.
Entner said that with Webpass's wireless technology, Google could deliver high-speed Internet much more quickly and cheaply than by building a full-fledged fiber network.
In Boston, the company is not only up against the main incumbent provider from Comcast Corp., but a host of other services that promise to bring real competition for high-speed Internet service. Verizon Communications Inc. has announced a six-year program to roll out its Fios service in Boston. RCN Corp. serves about 20 percent of Boston and recently announced the extension of Internet service to 5,000 more households in Dorchester.
Another company provides a similar service as Webpass, netBlazr Inc., but again only in some portions of the city. In addition, a Boston startup called Starry Internet plans to begin testing a wireless high-speed service in the city this summer.