Page noted that even in San Jose's Fairmont Hotel it was hard to get a cellphone to work behind the ballroom stage. Also to logon to the hotel network required network ID and password - not something the busy executive has time to mess with on his T-Mobile G1 phone, the first to run Google's Android software. So one opportunity is to make wireless networking easy, foolproof and reliable.
Page reckons that we could be 20-30% more productive if only our wireless networks worked properly. Just think how many people can't work well because they are out of range of WiFi, their network is too slow, they drop a call or access is too expensive.
Last Tuesday, on November 4th, the FCC agreed to open up the spectrum between TV channels for wireless devices. This will allow many more people to connect to the Internet. Because television channels broadcast on different frequencies, each area has different spectrum frequencies available. So a stipulation is that devices must have GPS so that they can be connected on the right frequency using a database.
Clearwire with Sprint (Xohm to be called Clearwire) will also offer WiMAX networks. WiMAX networks will enable wireless communications over greater distances than WiFi. There's also the 700 MHz C-Block spectrum that Verizon won earlier this year and thanks to Google's lobbying has to be open for new wireless devices. Google already has deals with Clearwire for its applications and is an investor in Clearwire. WiMAX looks much more attractive now that it is becoming more open. Most WiMAX networks will be outside the US - they are being deployed fast in countries like India right now.
Entrepreneurs can create new devices, new applications and new network services for these networks. Really smart radios can be made that tune to the right frequency automatically.
Larry Page sees many small companies offering services in the TV white space spectrum - just as there were once many Internet service providers. He says that in 2008, a billion WiFi chips will be sold and they are about $5 each. When that happens for other wireless networks they will really take off.
One impediment to fast wireless networks is fast connections to the Internet. Google employees can get 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) access because they rent conduits from the town of Mountain View that carry fiber to their premises. We are not all so lucky!
I asked Larry if Google would be testing the white space wireless networks in Mountain View. First he thinks the chips will be available in about 18 months and that if the vendors are pragmatic they'll use existing WiFi software, so as not to reinvent the wheel. Then he says he doesn't know what Google will do, but it's quite possible there'll be tests in our locality. IEEE is already working on the 802.22 standards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_802.22) for WRAN - Wireless Regional Area Networks for TV White Spaces.
One of the reasons that white space networks are now feasible is that technology can now help devices get more reliable signals. So radio interference problems like those that that made TV pictures turn to snow when you turned on a hairdryer can be avoided.
There's going to be some great businesses in this space so let me know if you find any in Mountain View.
Picture shows Kevin Martin and Larry Page answering questions at the WCA conference in San Jose.