Facebook has been experimenting with new technology to boost WiFi and will shortly run a trial in downtown San Jose.
Dubbed “Terragraph” by Facebook, the WiFi boosting technology has so far only been tested on Facebook’s campus, but now tests are expanding into a trial in downtown San Jose later this year. At present it is unknown when the testing will begin, or how long the trial will run.
Facebook spokesman Derick Mains said, “We think we have found a more efficient way to provide more wireless capacity in dense urban areas by using WiFi.”
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) April 13, 2016
According to Mains, the new technology is easier to install and is less expensive than digging up the streets to install fiber Internet services, such as Google Fiber. Instead, Facebook will install metal boxes – approximately the size of a shoe box – on light poles throughout the downtown area.
Reportedly, they will feed existing high-speed fiber optic cables into the boxes, which will then transmit data signals wirelessly from box to box across downtown.
As reported by The Verge, while the new Facebook technology will still tap into San Jose’s current WiFi network, the new boxes will strengthen the signal, allowing it to move around tall buildings and through traffic in the city.
Mains says that with the new setup, wireless connectivity and the ability to use mobile data will become faster and more reliable, but for now, the network will only be available outdoors. Reportedly, that is due to the fact that it’s an easier technology to install and implement during the trial period.
If the trial goes well, Facebook may expand the service to currently underserved areas of the city such as East San Jose where many residents don’t have similar digital access.
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According to NBC Bay Area, San Jose was last year hoping to become the first city in California to get the ultra fast Google Fiber Internet and TV service, but residents were disappointed when the search engine giant chose to launch in San Francisco instead.
While the new Facebook Terragraph WiFi system won’t be as fast as Google Fiber, San Jose city leaders are thrilled to be the first in the world to test the new system.
According to Mains, Facebook chose downtown San Jose to test the new service because of the high-rise buildings and Internet congestion, with many users all trying to access the same network at once.
“It’s the right environment and a very good fit,” Mains said. “And they’ve been very welcoming of private-sector collaboration to provide more connectivity to their citizens.”
— Hannah Kuchler (@hannahkuchler) April 13, 2016
The great thing is the new WiFi network will be available to residents and visitors of downtown San Jose at no charge, as with the existing free WiFi service.
According to Mayor Sam Liccardo, the new launch also aligns with the city’s new vision to become a “Smart City.” Liccardo said, “Cities worldwide are searching for ways to ensure that all residents can enjoy the benefits of internet connectivity by broadening access to fast and affordable broadband service.”
“San Jose is proud to work with a global tech leader like Facebook to pilot a next-generation technology that can help us achieve these goals and support research to support communities around the world.”
To put users’ minds at rest relating to privacy concerns, Mains said the social media giant will not collect any user data during the trial period. Mains promises the company will only look at how the WiFi network performs and the download speeds achieved. Should the test be successful, Mains added that plans are to deploy the service more widely in downtown in 2017 and to possibly bring the service indoors.
Mains said Facebook isn’t worried about the competition from Google Fiber and other fiber services, saying, “Our view is the more high-speed reliable connectivity that exists, regardless of who provides it, is good for everybody.”
[Photo via Shutterstock]