Google is working on a project to create its own global Internet protocol (IP) network, a private alternative to the internet controlled by the search giant, according to sources who are in commercial negotiation with the company.
Last month, Google placed job advertisements in America and the British national press for "Strategic Negotiator candidates with experience in...identification, selection, and negotiation of dark fibre contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network".
Dark fibre is the remnants of late 1990s Internet boom where American web companies laid down fibre optic cables in preparation for high speed Internet delivery. Following the downturn in the technology sector during the early 2000s, the installation process for many of these networks was left incomplete. This has resulted in a usable network of cables spread across the United States that have never been switched on. By purchasing the dark fibre, Google would in effect be able to acquire a ready made Internet network that they could control.
Late last year, Google purchased a 270,000sq ft telecom interconnection facilities in New York. It is believed that from here, Google plans to link up and power the dark fibre system and turn it into a working Internet network of its own.
It was also reported in November that Google was buying shipping containers and building data centres within them, possibly with the aim of using them at significant nodes within the worldwide cable network. "Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box<" Robert Cringely wrote. "The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid."
Google has long been rumoured to be planning to launch a PC to retail for less than $100. The Google computers are likely to be low-grade machines that require a connection to Google to be able to perform functions such as word processing and spreadsheet manipulations. While using the computers, it is understood that consumers will be shown personalised advertising from the company's AdWords network.
The various reports prompted analysts Bear Stearns to note last year: "We think Google could be experimenting with new hardware endeavours that could significantly change potential future applications by Google, creating another advantage for Google over its competitors. Investors may currently under appreciate Google as a potential hardware company."
The technology industry has also been alive with talk that the Google $100 machines will be less like a standard home PC and more like a television: in effect, one of the first convergent devices between the Internet and television. While offering the standard PC applications, the "Google Cube" will also offer interactive content from a variety of sources while retaining Google branding and displaying Google advertising.
A leading content provider, who did not wish to be named, told Times Online: "We are in discussions with Google to provide content for their alternative Internet service, to be distributed through their Google Cube product. As far as I'm aware they have been conducting negotiations with a number of other players in our marketplace to provide quality content to their users."
However, industry insiders fear that the development of a network of Google Cubes powered over a Google-owned internet network will greatly increase the power that Google wields over online publishers and Internet users.
Should Google successfully launch an alternative network, it is theoretically possible for them to block out competitor websites and only allow users to access websites that have paid Google to be shown to their users.
However, the moves towards providing equipment for as little as £60 will prove popular with home users and even governments, who will welcome the spread of the Internet to homes that could not previously afford the initial costs of purchasing PCs.
Contacted by Times Online today, a spokesperson for Google denied that it had any such plans, before adding its customary rider: "It's Google's policy not to comment on speculation concerning products before they are launched."
Benjamin Cohen is a regular contributor to Times Online, writing about the internet and commerce. He is the CEO of pinknews.co.uk
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