Google Fiber Buys Webpass in Wireless Internet Land Grab

Google Fiber plans to acquire Webpass in a deal that trims the ranks of independent Internet service providers—an industry already maligned for its lack of competition—but ultimately could boost consumer access to high-speed Internet.

San Francisco-based Webpass has spent the past 13 years working to bring ultra-fast wireless Internet access to homes (primarily large apartment complexes) and businesses around the country. Without the aid of venture capital, the small upstart says, it has grown to “tens of thousands” of customers in five metro areas: the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego.

But getting to this point has been a painstaking slog filled with logistical and political challenges. Xconomy has chronicled Webpass’s path, which has involved methodically building out its technological infrastructure city by city; negotiating with property owners and managers to install its equipment; navigating long-standing regulations that Webpass founder and president Charles Barr has argued favor entrenched cable and phone giants; and fighting to wrestle customers away from those big Internet service providers.

Six-year-old Google Fiber has had its own set of challenges. Fiber networks are expensive to build. And as Barr himself pointed out in an Xconomy op-ed in April, Google Fiber has rolled out its service slowly to a relatively small geographic footprint, despite the vast resources of its parent company.

Now, Webpass will tap into those deep pockets. “By joining forces, we can accelerate the deployment of super fast Internet connections for customers across the U.S.,” Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the tie-up. “Google Fiber’s resources will enable Webpass to grow faster and reach many more customers than we could as a standalone company.”

The terms of the deal, which Barr wrote is expected to close this summer, weren’t disclosed. Barr didn’t respond to an Xconomy e-mail message seeking more details.

The acquisition will instantly expand the footprint of Google Fiber, which is currently available in Atlanta, Austin, TX, Kansas City, Nashville, and Provo, UT, with another 18 locations either in the works or being considered. Google Fiber established most, but not all, of those operations itself—it entered Provo by acquiring fiber optic network provider iProvo in 2013, Wired reported.

The Webpass deal also helps Google Fiber diversify the methods it uses to deliver Internet signal to customers. Google Fiber primarily enables access by laying fiber optic cables that run into houses and other buildings. Webpass, meanwhile, uses a network of antennas installed on buildings and microwave towers to beam Internet signal via radio frequency technology that employs point-to-point, line-of-sight communication. Google Fiber began testing its own wireless Internet technology in Kansas City earlier this year, Recode reported.

Webpass will also bolster Google Fiber’s efforts to serve more businesses and consumers living in apartment buildings, Recode pointed out.

Meanwhile, other wireless Internet service companies include NetBlazr, Ethoplex, and Starry, a young startup led by the founder of controversial (and now defunct) streaming video service Aereo.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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