Update: Later in the day, both Google and ICOA denied the story about the acquisition. The report began with a fraudulent press release. See this All Things D article for more details.
Google has announced that it will purchase Warwick, Rhode Island-based ICOA for $400 million. ICOA sets up and maintains public Wi-Fi hotspots in airports, hotels, fast food restaurants and similar high-traffic areas.
ZDNet's Larry Dignan noted, "ICOA is based in Warwick, RI and owns Wi-Fi networks in 40 states. Partners include iPass, Boingo Wireless and BroadSky Networks. ICOA trades over the counter in so-called Pink Sheets, which is a low volume market."
According to Computerworld's Mikael Ricknas, "This isn't the first time, however, that Google has dabbled in wireless Internet access. It already offers a free wireless Internet service in Mountain View, California, called Google WiFi. In June, Google signed a deal with Wi-Fi operator Boingo Wireless that allows New Yorkers to access Boingo's network of hotspots for free. In September, Google signed another deal with Boingo that included access to 4,000 hotspots across the U.S for a limited period."
Tomio Geron from Forbes added, "At the same time, Google also recently launched its own fiber optic network to provide Internet access in Kansas City."
GigaOm's Stacey Higginbotham commented, "This Wi-Fi buy looks more like an attempt to keep bringing in eyeballs for Google’s advertisers." She added, "For Google, which still makes most of its revenue and profits from advertising, the login screen of a Wi-Fi network offers a potential gold-mine. By selling a sponsorship page to the highest bidder in a given location, Google can provide free Wi-Fi for users, sell a lucrative ad deal and create a bargaining chip with ISPs in both the wireline and wireless space."