Tuesday, August 15, 2006

google wifi

For the past two weeks I have been one of a few hundred people testing Google’s new Mountain View wireless network. The 802.11b/g mesh network consists of 380 Tropos access points attached to streetlights throughout the city, and three collection points that tie traffic back into Google’s backbone. At 9pm tonight Google opened access to this free network to the public.

A thank you to Google is in order. They constructed the network at their own expense (coverage map), and they are providing advertising-free, unnrestricted connectivity to everyone in Mountain View with a gmail address. No more need for that EVDO card or, potentially, wired broadband when you are in Mountain View and have the right equipment.

Getting on the network is easy. Your wireless device will detect the open Google network (SSID “GoogleWiFi”), and when you launch a browser you are re-directed to a login page. You can encrypt your traffic using Google-provided VPN software (download) or your preferred package, and I recommend that you do this.

During the test period, encryption worked seamlessly and I encountered excellent connection speeds approaching the cap of 1Mb/s up and down. Although both dsl and cable offer appreciably faster download bandwidth as part of standard $20-40 a month packages, upload bandwidth approaching 1Mb/s is much more expensive.

A limitation of the citywide WiFi network is that line-of-sight is required for a strong connection. This is fine for parks, outdoor cafes, yards and my pool, but in most homes, the signal is not strong enough for indoor use. For example, I have no reception inside my pad.

The solution for weak indoor signals is a WiFi modem, a special high-sensitivity repeater that amplifies the signal and bridges to your existing network with an Ethernet port. Google’s testing suggests that the 200mW PePLink 200BG ($169) and Peplink 200BG-AP ($189) perform best. The 200BG is an analog for your broadband modem, and you would plug your router into it. The 200BG-AP is an all-in-one unit that functions as a modem, router and access point for your internal network.

I haven’t tried a WiFi modem yet, but if were paying more for my dsl or still struggling with bad service I would purchase a PePLink in a heartbeat. Posts on the discussion group suggest that they work well, especially in combination with a directional antenna, and they pay for themselves rather quickly. Note: Google is not providing telephone support, but they do have a comprehensive FAQ.

Bonus link: ad-supported (free) WiFi from MetroFi for Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Santa Clara