Google comes to you

26 Apr 2006

Google is one of the companies that has almost everything going for it. It provides a good service to consumers, it's free while making money off advertisers, which presumably complete the circle by selling goods and services to those same consumers.

The company has also expanded its content portfolio by introducing Webmail, buying Blogger to host user blogs, developing interesting and creative tools like Google Earth, and is now testing the waters of free voice communications and instant messaging.

In more ways then one, it is like a television broadcaster that spends money on creating or buying programming that attracts viewers and then selling access to those viewers to advertisers.

On the other hand, the way Google delivers its services is quite different from the likes of CNN and NBC because the network it uses to do so is fundamentally different from traditional television.

Data networks, or the Internet, are passive networks while broadcast networks are all active. In other words, when no one is online on the Internet, the network itself is pretty much sitting there doing nothing. A television network is always full with programming being sent out from the broadcaster.

In the case of the Internet, the interaction between the user and the network must be initiated by the user, via a mobile phone or a computer. In the case of TV, the network is always engaged with the user, who only needs to switch on their sets and let the content in.

The disadvantage of being from the Internet is that the only way users come across Google is when they direct their browser to the company's portal.

Just like television

Now it looks like the company is hoping to change that, with wireless technology nonetheless. The company reportedly filed an application to the US Patent Office, which outlines a strategy that will bring users to Google, or more precisely, bring Google to users.

The patent, filed last month, describes the process in which users accessing Wi-Fi hotspots would be served targeted ads from Google. Online reports say the company intends to roll out this new service to hotspot operators, giving them a source of income that has evaded most of the Wi-Fi sector thus far.

What ads are served will depend on a number of factors, such as location of the site, the industry sector of the site operator (i.e. coffee shop), or other predefined parameters.

Every time a user logs on, the system connects back to Google's servers, which then serve up the ads to the users' PC. While the system is operator agnostic at this point, Google is reportedly preparing to the set up its own network of hotspots with the ultimate goal of covering entire cities with Wi-Fi, or later WiMAX, access.

With Google's track record, and the fact that it is willing to share part of the revenue with the site operators, the scheme looks like a pretty good bet. There are obvious logistic challenges, such as billing, as well as technical issues, the least of which is the added bandwidth that will be required to support live ads streaming down to users PC. Whether or not Google can stream enough ads to users with the scheme to make it worth while for itself and to the site owners is another uncertainty.

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