By Aura Altamiranda
For a long time, Google has been known for much more than its search engine; over the years, we’ve watched Google launch all kinds of products and ideas including Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Drive, Plus, Hangouts, and not too long ago, we saw the company launch Google Glass, which the world is still processing; considering it’s thousand dollar price range, it will take time before gaining popularity. Some projects have been more successful than others, but the company’s expansion and ongoing intent to innovate comes from their mission statement, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Google’s latest venture is Sidewalk Labs—a stand-alone company owned by Google with its own mission: “to improve life in cities for everyone through the application of technology to solve urban problems.” Their first project is launching free Wi-Fi in large cities beginning with New York City, the site of their headquarters. Sidewalk Labs is calling the project “Intersection,” which aims to use existing infrastructure as hubs for wireless access points. Rather than turning on your Wi-Fi and hoping there’s a guest network, and instead of having to visit a local McDonald’s or Starbucks, Wi-Fi connections would spring up at bus stops, pay phones, and other public spots.
This project would give widespread accessibility to those who may not be able to afford it, keep users from eating up their data, and allow connectivity anywhere and everywhere.
One question is: Where will all this funding come from? Will Google assume the responsibility or will the weight fall on governmental entities and taxpayers? Ultimately, “free” Wi-Fi won’t actually be free; initial set up costs and maintenance will cost a fortune. The networks would also be inevitably slow with the constant traffic of usage. Above all, these potential public networks would be unprotected and established without the expectation of privacy.
All that aside, this may create a larger disconnect in a society that already has trouble putting their phones down long enough to have a meal. In theory, widespread free Wi-Fi sounds like a dream to our generation; the greatest challenge here will likely be logistics.
This vision is still a long way down the road; Sidewalk Labs is working on what it will look like in NYC, and intends to pilot this initiative before moving forward with any additional expansion.