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Google Preparing to Launch WiFi Service

Online search leader Google (GOOG) is preparing to launch a wireless Internet service, Google WiFi, according to several pages found on the company's Web site on Tuesday.

A WiFi (search) service, which offers a high-speed connection to the Internet, would take Google even further from its Internet search roots and move it into the fiercely competitive world of Internet access providers and telecommunications companies.

The Google Web site has several references to Google WiFi but provides few details. One page (http://wifi.google.com/faq.html ) refers to a product called "Google Secure Access," which is designed to "establish a more secure connection while using Google WiFi."

A separate page (http://wifi.google.com/download.html) offers a free download of Google Secure Access (search), carrying the headline: "Your wireless connection is almost ready to use."

Google declined to comment. The company has already launched a sponsored WiFi "hotspot" in San Francisco's Union Square district in April with a start-up called Feeva.

Speculation about a forthcoming Google WiFi service has been rife since August following an article in Business 2.0 magazine, but the company has refused to discussed its plans.

Analysts have voiced concerns that Google could extend itself too far beyond its core business, while acknowledging its vast financial and engineering resources could produce results.

"Becoming a service provider would be quite a stretch for Google, but considering the billions of dollars Google could throw at the problem it could become a reality," Ovum analyst Roger Entner wrote in the wake of the Business 2.0 article.

"Depending on how Google can adapt to these challenging areas and how committed it is to the space, it could become a home run or could break the bank."

WiFi is an increasingly popular technology that is used to provide high-speed wireless Internet access in homes, business and public spaces like airports and coffee shops. WiFi connectivity is built into many new laptop computers, as well as some handheld devices and Sony's PlayStation Portable.

The FAQ says that the Google Secure Access service is in "beta," meaning that the company does not consider it a fully finished product -- standard operating procedure for services like Gmail.

Google, which is rapidly expanding beyond its core Internet search service, introduced an instant messaging and telephony service called Google Talk (search) in August.

Its shares were up 1.6 percent to $308.64 on the Nasdaq exchange.

"I think strategically it absolutely makes sense but its profit and loss impact remains unclear," said Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef Squali.

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