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Google plans to court small, medium businesses with subsidized Wi-Fi

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Google has always wanted to work with small businesses and may just have come up with the right thing to win business owners over into using more of its cloud-based enterprise services - subsidized Wi-Fi.

The Information says it has obtained a leaked document that reports Google is planning to roll out heavily discounted commercial-grade Wi-Fi hardware and software to small and medium business. The Information also cites a person briefed on the matter who confirmed the contents of the leaked document.

"The planned offering, which could be unveiled as soon as this summer, is aimed at millions of businesses such as restaurants, doctors' offices and gyms-and possibly even public institutions like libraries-in the U.S. and abroad," writes The Information.

The new directive will not make Google an Internet service provider. Instead, it will simply sell routers and access point hardware to businesses to improve their Wi-Fi support. The Wi-Fi network will be connected to the Internet via the business's existing ISP and could be managed anywhere with an Internet connection. On the backend, the network will run on web-based software powered by Google Compute Engine.

What does this mean for customers? Anyone with a Google account can automatically log on to these Wi-Fi hotspots via a secure WPA2 connection whenever they are in range, without the hassle of going through a tedious set of terms and conditions. Instead of keying in the login information, authentication is done automatically in the cloud. This relies largely on a new technology called Hotspot 2.0, which is essentially one big wireless network you can share with millions of people around the world.

The goal apparently is to attract business owners into moving their operations to the cloud and use more of Google's enterprise services, such as Docs, Apps and Google Drive, all while allowing them to provide better-quality Wi-Fi services to their customers.

The Information also reports that Google plans to provide businesses with insights about their customer base, possibly through Google Analytics, but it is not clear what kind of information Google will share. Obviously, Google will also benefit from these insights as the company will be able to use them to create highly-targeted ads, which generate the bulk of the company's revenue.

Google's Access team, which is responsible for 100-Gbps Fiber networks, will directly oversee this project.

This isn't the first time Google has worked with Wi-Fi. Last year, Google replaced AT&T as the Wi-Fi provider for all Starbucks stores across the U.S., following its deployment of free Wi-Fi in San Francisco parks. In 2006, Google launched a metro network for its hometown in Mountain View, California.

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