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What has your experience been with Google WiFi?

Original post made by Daniel DeBolt, Mountain View Voice Staff Writer, on Apr 24, 2009

It's been almost three years since Google installed its free WiFi network. We would like to get readers' thoughts on how it has served the city. Has it been a success, a disappointment or at the very least an interesting study on the limits of WiFi technology?
Do longtime users find slower connections lately?
Have you abandoned it for paid Internet service?
Perhaps there are ideas for how it can be improved.
Do certain neighborhoods have a better connection than others?
We've noticed, for example, that it lacks the bandwidth for downloading TV shows on, but YouTube videos are no problem.
Please add your thoughts below.

Comments (39)

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Posted by Angela Hey
Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Apr 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

I've enjoyed using it - but I'm only a casual visitor to Mountain View. The original network was not spec'd for small devices and I don't download movies over it (if I want to do that I go to Red Rock Cafe). Here's the places I've found it useful:
1. Shoreline Cafe - this is my favorite place to use it - although the last time I didn't get a signal (few weeks ago). I use both iPhone and laptop here.
2. Near the window at Fenwick and West's conference center - you have to sit near the window with a laptop - only use if there are lots of people already using the Fenwick WiFi.
3. On a bench in Castro Street - iPhone works OK.
4. In car - park near antenna on lamp post - use iPhone.

Like this comment
Posted by Maria B
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Apr 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I can't get Google WiFi at all in my neighborhood, which is bordered by El Camino/85.

Like this comment
Posted by Martha
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Used it for quite a while (canceled my DSL for it). Loved it for quite a while, then it became very erratic. Sometimes blazing fast, other times slower than dirt -- and often we couldn't connect at all. Finally gave up and went to a cable modem.

We had the booster box inside, and connected through our secure internal router, so I felt it was pretty safe. But the erratic service just got to us. Cable has been much more reliable.

Like this comment
Posted by Pennie Lee
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I live in St. Francis Acres. I use Google Wifi with a desktop, not a laptop, but when I was working with my business laptop at home, I had no connection problems. I replaced Comcast Internet due to the cost. I have had no problems with Google. It also does not hurt that it is on the lamp post outside of our home. I do not download movies but do watch at times to catch up on missed TV shows. Main use is Internet searching and email. When my daughter visits from NYC, she is unable to connect to with Google Wifi using her Apple laptop.

Like this comment
Posted by lee
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 24, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I live close to Whisman and Middlefield. Google wifi has never worked for me at this location. I wish google hadn't come to mountain view. It sucks having this company here. It was a nice quiet place and now rents are high and there are google bobble heads running around all over the place.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Loner
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 24, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I use Google WiFi exclusivly since its inception. Not many problems, too few to mention. I'm less than 50ft from the antena, I always get a strong signal, for free what the hell, I love it.

Like this comment
Posted by googanhiemer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 24, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Google works best when I connect the cable to my son's skateboard helmet wrapped in foil, I then make him stand on a ladder outside the house. He's not happy on cold rainy nights. It does work better when my wife wears it because she's taller. Thanks Google!

Like this comment
Posted by QM
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 24, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I have the BEST internet service EVER since Google added free wi-fi internet service to Mountain View. I have not had to pay for internet for three years and I also was able to cancel my home landline phone.

How did I do this?

I receive good Google wi-fi signal strength in my neighborhood. I purchased a Ruckus wi-fi modem for a one time cost of $100. My modem stays connected to the Google wi-fi service 24-7, and my log of down time shows one incident for 6 hours in October 30th 2008 and another on September 30th 2008 for 8 hours.

I enjoy free Google Secure Access WPA security on the network. I attached a free Linksys /Cisco router to my Ruckas modem, which came with my T-mobile at home VOIP phone line – I was even able to keep my old landline number. The home network supports a desktop, two laptops and 3 Nintendo DS wireless connections.

I added an Apple TV to the works, and enjoy YouTube on my TV over my free internet connection, which I have run speed tests on several occasions, and found them to be equal to a DSL Business line connection. Download times for movies are a little slow, but if you plan ahead, there is really no issue. – Keep on clicking…

Thanks Google

Like this comment
Posted by AG
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I love that Mountain View has so many trees. In my neighborhood though, they block Google's wifi signal so much that connecting, even outdoors, is difficult at best (I usually get just one or two signal bars).

I would love to not pay Comcast or AT&T for internet service and even looked into buying a Ruckus wifi modem to bring Google's signal indoors but it just would not have worked with that weak of a signal.

Like this comment
Posted by JC
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 25, 2009 at 8:42 am

We have an antenna in front of our home and are unable to get a reliable signal in the house. Secondly the free service is unsecured and not worth the risk of using. In my travels around the Bay Area I have never had a problem finding internet access in any neighborhood as most people don't setup security on their wireless home networks.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil Aaronson
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Inside our neighborhood there's no signal and after 3 years I doubt there ever will be. At the Mountain View train station there's no signal. While driving around, you're moving from antenna to antenna too quickly either for it or the phone to adapt (an iphone)? If they happen to put an antenna right outside your home, great, otherwise it appears to be all but worthless.

Like this comment
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 25, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I live on Hedgerow Court in Mountain View where the signal is weak due to no repeaters mounted on this streets lamp posts and also we have lots of trees on the block which I have heard blocks the signal. Sometimes I get a good signal and then it works OK. I would very much like to have google add a repeater to Hedgerow Court.

Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2009 at 6:37 pm

First off, whining about a FREE service not working well at your home is pretty lame (I'm only talking to a few people here- most are just stating facts, which is obviously just fine).

We use google as a back-up for our home service, and it works just fine. I've been able to get a decent signal in most parts of town. For a free service, it exceeds reasonable expectations.

Finally, JC, not only is pimping your neighbors inernet service tacky, but, um, also just as insecure (more so, I think) as using google. I hope one of your neighbors intercepts your bank account number soon

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Cheapskate
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2009 at 7:55 am

I luv it, for FREE what the heck I use it every day. I'd say it works fine 80% of the time. I just don't know how secure it is??

Like this comment
Posted by Kathy K.
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Hi--thank you to Google--we have good use on our Computer, unless "I"push the wrong button---enjoy it a lot and would not sign up with anyone else. Thanks again for your service.

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Doesn't work in our area - possibly too many trees and few repeaters mounted on the street lamps posts.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave O
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 27, 2009 at 6:50 pm

I've been using free Google Wifi daily from home since it started. I have been reasonably happy with it. I use a high power wifi modem made by Buffalo (now discontinued) connected by cable to my desktop computer, with the modem sitting in a window with direct line-of-sight to the nearby Google transceiver pole. It works great for email and web browsing. It can be sluggish for streaming video downloads. And it goes down for about one day per month, so I demand to get my money back :). So if they would improve its reliability I would be VERY happy with the service.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 27, 2009 at 8:47 pm

No signal west of Shoreline on Latham.

Like this comment
Posted by MV resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm

I live north of the train tracks between Old Mountain View and North Whisman. I used to get Google WiFi if I moved my notebook computer to my kitchen table. That is no longer the case. I believe there are several transmitters in my neighborhood, but none of them really work that well anymore.

I normally get a decent signal on my iPod touch if I'm downtown though (but not at the Caltrain station). I've tried it at other locations in town with very mixed results.

It would be far more useful service if it were actually reliable. Oh well...

Like this comment
Posted by MV resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Oh, I'll try to address some of the original poster's questions.

For a short while (for me), it was mostly a success. I was even able to connect to the secure version.

Then the signal reliability dropped, so I tried a Ruckus modem unsuccessfully and dabbled with a Buffalo high-power router, probably the same one Dave O uses (incidentally, it has not been discontinued -- Buffalo was not allowed to sell them for about a year during litigation which has since been settled).

Since then it has been a disappointment at home and probably illustrates the limits of free citywide WiFi.

Where/when you do get a good signal, it works okay, but the service isn't much faster than my cheapo 768K DSL line ($10/mo.). The latter is far more reliable.

I think wistfully about those few short months when the service was useful from my little place. Those days are long gone, the bright shiny future giving way to a tarnished and rusted reality.

Like this comment
Posted by Super D
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Apr 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Another Carmelita area resident chiming in about no access in our area. My home DSL doesn't support VPN, so whenever I need VPN, I drive to Martens/Grant intersection and connect up via Google and get the work done.

I would be very thankful if Google added another repeater on Carmelita.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I live on Chiquita between California and Villa. I've been using the service without a modem since day one. There were some signal strength problems in the early days and there are periods when the system is unavailable (less than 5% of the time). But overall, I've been very happy with the service and speed. I would even pay a small fee for it when the free trial period ends.

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Posted by Bernie Brightman
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I use the Ruckus also and it's fairly good. I'm not trying to watch movies though, where it would probably fail. There are weird, unexplained outages which I suppose are Google engineers working on things, unfortunately with no explanation or prior notice for us. Another problem is that there are a lot of unshielded microwave ovens around which disturb the wifi signal. Performance really tails off around dinner time and even at lunch time on weekends.

Like this comment
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

AC is a registered user.

I am glad to know it's there. I have only used it a couple of times, and authentication was painfully slow, and lag and latency were sporadic from where I tried to use it (Cascal on Castro, Starbucks at Rengstorff/Middlefield, Mountain View Caltrain Station, et al).

My bandwidth needs justify my need for Comcast. But still, I am glad to know that the Google WiFi is there if I should need it.

Like this comment
Posted by Jerry T
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I never get Google WiFi in my house. I can get it in The Boardwalk, but the connection is too weak to even download email.

Like this comment
Posted by Rex
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I'm at Shoreline and Wright Ave. I appreciate having the service; it's decent though not always reliable and seems to stutter at times (I have a Ruckus WiFi modem). However, when my cable service failed, it was nice to have that backup service. I would consider relying exclusively on it if it were more dependable and faster. Can't complain though since it's free. Thanks!

Like this comment
Posted by Bruno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I pay for a Comcast connection because the Google signal is not strong and I like a secured personal connection, I'm willing to pay for it. The problem I have with Google WiFi is that it kicks me off of my network from time to time and it changes my web page(s) into login pages. Hey, it's cool that Google wants to give free web. I can't stand Google myself and don't use anything they provide, but if it works for everyone else that's fine. I just don't like it booting me off of my own network that works just fine in every room of my house.

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Posted by J. L. S.
a resident of Castro City
on Apr 28, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Never been able to access it--nor have any of my neighbors.

Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Not bad for a free service. As others have said, how can you complain about Free? However, there doesn't seem to be any effort to improved the speed, reliability, or coverage areas. You get what you pay for. Basic DSL service can be had for $13/mo, and is faster and more reliable.

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Posted by Mark
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 28, 2009 at 8:18 pm

I've used G WiFi from the start with the recommended PepLink WiFi modem. The service has been about 95% reliable with a few long outages since inception. But what do you want for nothing? I'm happy.

You can download all the porn you want! ha ha.

It's as good as Comcast Cable TV which has about the same reliability for me.

Like this comment
Posted by Rowena Dodson
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 29, 2009 at 7:23 am

We have our own service in the house. I use an iphone out and about in Mountain View and have had only minimal luck in accessing google wifi (and usually not when I really needed it for a quick restaurant or movie review!). It is completely random when you can get it and when you can't. This makes it much less useful in my view. Google got much hype and good PR out of "providing" Mountain View with "free wifi" when it was introduced. However, the reality has been so much less than the hype. Assessing how this experiment really worked on the ground is a good thing.

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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I use Google Wi-fi at home with the Ruckus modem. When it works, it's fast -- I can do video downloads and everything. We used to have super reliable service, but now it seems that I have to reboot the modem daily in order to connect. I'm not complaining though -- it's a thousand times better than dial-up that I upgraded from. I'd be willing to pay a small amount if it could get me better reliability.

As for security, I have used Google Wi-fi Secure, which uses WPA-PSK and seems to operate jsut fine.

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Posted by RMT of Rex Manor
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm

lets put it this way, it's taken me 30min. to get to this page and post this reply.
The connection speed ranges from 54mb to 1mb and even with no movement in my external antenna the connection strength wanders from none to excellant.
It's nice to have a free service, but it sure could be improved. We have 3 antenna's around our block, but it's still very erratic.
It would also be nice if we could get a secure connection working.
Hard to complain about free, but since you guys asked...

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Posted by meg
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 30, 2009 at 11:13 am

It worked once, for a minute. So slow on 3 different laptops. Useless in both places I have lived in Mountain View

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Posted by QM
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 30, 2009 at 7:42 pm

If you are using a Ruckus modem or similar, you can set it up to use the Google Secure WiFi services as an authenticated user - This is NOT the same as your email login. You have to get the username and password by folowing the numerous helpful links. When you do this, you will stay connected and have no problems.

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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 30, 2009 at 9:25 pm

We tried using it when it was first installed and had problems getting good signal using the Ruckus modem and various DIY antennas, then they installed a mesh node directly in front of our house so signal strength was not a problem, but we still had problems sometimes with connectivity and high lantency. We tried using it instead of DSL, but eventually switched back to DSL, but we still use it sometimes. I just ran a speed test and it's reporting 2.0Mbits down and 1.0Mbit up, wich seems like some kind of record. I thought service was supposed to be speed limited to 1.0MBit?

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:14 pm

I have my own high speed internet at home, but it is extraordinarily handy to use Google wifi when I'm around town -- with my laptop or itouch. It's true the signals are spotty, but it's free and everywhere -- I just walk over near a light post and have no trouble with the connection. I feel very lucky we have google in our city and they decided to do this -- I missed metricom so much once they died...

Like this comment
Posted by Karl
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Google WIFI is my only internet connection. I used to use Earthlink dial-up, but this is
cheaper and about 95% reliable at my house. I have a PepWave modem in an upstairs
bedroom window, which can 'see' the node across the street with nothing in-between.
It generates an in-house WIFI network which my computer connects to. On rare
occasions, usually around the dinner hour, I have trouble connecting.

My only wish is a phone number people could call that would tells us known problems
and where we could leave messages about problems. Currently, if I cannot connect,
I have to go to the library to send a message.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I live near El Monte & El Camino and have been on Google Wifi for over 2 years. The first year was acceptable performance for a free service. I'd compare it to low speed DSL performance. I did have to buy a more expensive WAN router and antenna (around $300) to get a good enough signal for home computing so calling it a free service is not totally an accurate representation (from an end-user perspective). I gave up my cable modem and made that investment because Google made a contract with the city promising to provide a free low-end but adequate wifi service. The last year, the performance has been totally unnacceptable (even for a free service). The service seems to have been religated to only be a backup service for home usage. In recent months, I'd say it is not even reasonable to call it a backup service.

There is a traffic problem in the system and Google is not putting adequate attention into it to fix it properly. I have been in contact with the Wifi team and they have acknowledged that there is a problem and that they are trying to figure it out. I sent them plenty of data that showed there was not a problem with my reception to the local transmitters. The problem was down stream. After sevreal months, with brief improvement periods, the problem has only gotten worse. This system has become a disgrace.

Having been involed in the valley's high tech businesses for over 30 years, I am aware that no company provides a free service without a business plan. You can be absolutely assured that this is the case with Google. They had a test bed for wifi distribution products and a very-happy-to-cooperate city. As far as I can tell, their investment has been very minimal. I appreciate Google's initial goodwill but to say I should not complain about being misled into investing money (and a ton of time and frustration) in a so-called free service that does not deliver as promised, is just wrong. Google made a 5 year contract with the city and for the last year plus have not fulfilled their commitment. It is time for them to correct their negligence in this matter.

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