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Google, known for its innovative hiring practices and research-based worked environment, unveiled its most interesting laboratory to date: a wireless network in Mountain View, CA, that covers “11.5 square miles and has 380 access points in the city with a population of about 72,000, 35 miles south of San Francisco,” according to this Bloomberg article.

The company insists it has no desire to roll out a nationwide wireless service; instead, it plans to use its hometown as a test bed for consumer interest in wireless products. It’s a fascinating idea, really, because the biggest challenge that developers face is figuring out exactly what consumers want – and no amount of controlled focus groups will ever accurately answer that question.

While the service will remain free and not supported by advertising, the Guardian is reporting that Google will use it to test location-based advertising, allowing the company to serve specific advertisements to people based upon their location, a service that ad agencies are increasingly pushing.

The network itself cost only $1 million to install, according to Google, but it’s done more that simply deploy access points: it’s also offered tutorials on the wireless network to residents, according to the New York Times.

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