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The Race To Bring WiFi To The World

Wifi

Google Station is gearing up to launch its free WiFi hotspot network across Mexico, and no physical wall or billionaire monopolist can stop it now, though Facebook may be hot on its trail soon enough.   

Gunning for emerging markets, Mexico is Google Station’s first stop in Latin America, and third world-wide, following a launch in India in 2016 and Indonesia last year.

Mexico opened up thanks to telecom reform in 2014 that brought an end to the domination of the market by billionaire Carlos Slim and his America Movil. Now, the number of internet users is soaring, and Google Station is hoping for another success to mirror its efforts in India, where it now boasts some 8 million users.

In Mexico, it will be an ad-supported WiFi hotspot network in 56 locations initially.

But where does this put Google in its war of sorts with Facebook to win the emerging market WiFi race?

Google Station might have 8 million users in India, but Facebook has been intent on challenging this, even if they have different means (personal versus public connectivity) to the same end: getting more people in front of their products.

In May last year, Facebook’s Express WiFi—a low-cost solution for people who can’t afford expensive broadband--announced it would team up with India’s Airtel to launch 700 hotspots across the country, with another 20,000 to follow. Google Station is targeting a partnership with RailTel to push its hotspots across India. By next year, they plan to have free WiFi at all of India’s 8,000 rail stations, and 7,000 of those stations are in rural areas. Related: The Tweet That Started A Trade War

Facebook’s Express has also followed Google to Indonesia, and launched in Kenya, with Tanzania and Nigeria also in the works.

Google is serious about giving as many of the world’s 7.4 billion people access to the internet as a gateway to its products. The search giant’s parent company, Alphabet (NYSE:GOOGL) is already a $790-billion market cap company, whose stock sells for over $1,100.

In 2016, it sent thousands of free bicycles into rural India, peddled by women carrying smartphones, tablets and mobile data connections to bike their way across the countryside, teaching people how to use it.

But Facebook is winning hearts and minds elsewhere—not the least among Nigeria’s 140 million mobile phone subscribers who suffer from poor internet connectivity problems.

And it’s also been playing around in Latin America—and much of the rest of the world—with its Free Basics program, which boasted two billion monthly active users as of the end of 2016 by creating an “on ramp” to the internet through closed, mobile platform. Users get free access, but only a few online services. It’s not Express WiFi, but that’s where it’s headed.

Rumblings about the Google and Facebook monopoly on modern-day life are intensifying, but there is one advancement that could break the grip of these two giants: 5G, the next generation mobile that could ‘cut the cord’, which is perhaps why emerging markets are looking so attractive to Google and Facebook right now. 

By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com

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