Google's holiday gift: Free airport Wi-Fi

In 47 U.S. airports, Google is subsidizing wireless Internet access, while Yahoo is doing the same in Times Square. Let's hope the network holds up.

Google said Tuesday it will subsidize free wireless network access in 47 airports from now until January 15--and indefinitely in the airports of Burbank, Calif., and Seattle.

The promotion, in cooperation with Boingo Wireless, Advanced Wireless Group, and Airport Marketing Income, is the latest effort to use free Wi-Fi to boost a brand. Among others: Yahoo is sponsoring Wi-Fi in Times Square in New York, and Google is sponsoring Internet access on Virgin America flights during the holidays .

Among the larger participating airports are those in Houston, Boston, Miami, Las Vegas, Nashville, San Diego, Baltimore, and St. Louis. A full list of the airports is at Google's free holiday Wi-Fi site.

The move, though not cheap, is probably smart. Plenty of business travelers have a laptop and time to kill, and today's consumers are increasingly likely to be equipped with laptops, iPod Touches, or other devices that can use wireless Internet access. Google is spending some money for an opportunity to give a lot of people the warm fuzzies when they encounter the Google brand.

And in the big picture, Google gets to show people what the world might be like if there were more high-speed wireless Internet access--something the company has been aggressively lobbying for in Washington, D.C. Many people are used to wireless networking in their homes, but it's a different matter on the road.

There are downsides, though, too. Having been to dozens of conferences where the wireless Net access collapses as soon as the keynote speech begins, I'm acutely aware that providing large-scale wireless Internet access is technically demanding--and people get unhappy when a promised benefit evaporates. And public, anonymous places such as airports and urban population centers are great spots for hackers to launch main-in-the-middle attacks by offering "Free Wi-Fi," so exercise caution when logging on to these networks.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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