Why Google wants to control more Wi-Fi

A fake press release about buying ICOA didn't pan out. But Google is still marching ahead with plans for more pervasive Wi-Fi as a way around Verizon and AT&T.

By Jason Notte Nov 26, 2012 5:33PM

The Google logo is seen on a podium and projected on a screen at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Califorina Paul Sakuma/AP No, Google (GOOG) isn't paying $400 million for wireless Internet network provider ICOA. But that doesn't mean they're not shopping around.

A press release that made its way to PRWeb on Monday had Google dropping a pile of cash for the Warwick, R.I., company, but ICOA chief executive George Strouthopoulos sent an e-mail to PCMag and TechCrunch vehemently denying his company was acquired. The company's 1,500 broadband hotspots at airports, hotels, marinas, restaurants and other locations in 45 states would be a nice asset if ICOA were selling, but Google's plans for more pervasive Wi-Fi will go on without it.

Google's loudly hinted at this type of expansion before, if only to give potential users a way around carriers like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) and the fees that accompany them. Google launched its high-speed Internet and television pilot program Google Fiber in Kansas City earlier this month and hooked on with Boingo Wireless to sponsor 4,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots for Android, Apple (AAPL) OS X and Microsoft (MSFT) Windows PC users back in September. (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.)

Picking up ICOA would have put Google in direct competition with Boingo, but that non-acquisition leaves the door open for future collaboration or an even bigger wireless deal. A Boingo buyout isn't even speculative at this point, but a big wireless buy would fit right into Google's grand plans.

As the folks at SlashGear point out, Google has wanted to bypass big wireless provider phone deals for its Android devices for some time now. Its Nexus One phone tanked in 2010 largely because still smartphone-shy consumers couldn't envision paying more than $500 for an unlocked device with no plan. Google learned from that mistake and offered its unlocked Nexus 4 for $299, which carriers already charge for subsidized, high-memory versions of some of the market's most popular phones.

Not that other the makers of other data-driven mobile operating systems really wanted to play Ma Bell, either. Steve Jobs originally envisioned the iPhone as a strictly wireless device that didn't need Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. Apple's FaceTime and Microsoft's acquisition of Skype (which is now used on the Windows Phone 8) suggest that dream may not be dead.

All of this Wi-Fi jockeying has wireless carriers changing their gameplan a bit. Instead of getting nothing out of Google's $250 Chromebook laptop, Verizon jumped in on a $329 3G alternate that comes with two years of free, 100-megabyte base 3G service. That's $80 for two years of coverage that's basically a safety net for Wi-Fi service. Compare that to the $50 a month Verizon squeezes from subscribers to its new base 1 gigabyte data plan.

Maybe that big Google press release didn't pan out, but there's a bigger Google Wi-Fi story being written far more incrementally.

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