Meet the geek's geek running Google's wireless shop

Known in Silicon Valley as “the other Craig Barratt,” the former CEO of Atheros is on a mission to extend Google's reach via fibre, drones and satellites.

A Stanford University Ph.D. who holds 34 patents, Craig Barratt is known to whip out his laptop in cars and on subway trains to write computer programs.

A Stanford University Ph.D. who holds 34 patents, Craig Barratt is known to whip out his laptop in cars and on subway trains to write computer programs. Source:Bloomberg

As the chief executive of Atheros Communications Inc. in 2010, Craig Barratt described a coming “megatrend” of mobile devices that connect to the internet in multiple ways, and stressed the importance of local Wi-Fi access to supplement cellular networks.

Now, as Google’s senior vice president, Access and Energy, Barratt is helping the search giant execute that vision with its planned move into cellphone service.

Barratt is leading Google’s effort to extend internet access, via fiber-optic lines, drones and satellites. In practice that means delivering Google search and other services to more people, with fewer constraints from broadband and wireless providers. The job requires him to connect disparate projects, lobby regulators and dance delicately with potential partners and rivals.

The planned cellphone service, for which Google will resell service on the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, is being managed by Google’s Android team, which makes its mobile-operating system.

But Barratt’s role is crucial to Google’s plan to make its service competitive and profitable. People familiar with the strategy say Google hopes to rely as much as possible on local Wi-Fi networks, and as little as possible on Sprint and T-Mobile.

Known in Silicon Valley as “the other Craig Barratt,” to avoid confusion with former Intel chief executive Craig Barrett, Mr. Barratt brings serious technical and managerial chops to the job.

From BackupPC to Google wireless

A Stanford University Ph.D. who holds 34 patents, Mr. Barratt is known to whip out his laptop in cars and on subway trains to write computer programs. During an eight-year stint in the 2000s as CEO of Atheros, a maker of semiconductors for wireless devices and networks, he wrote his own open-source software for storing data, called BackupPC. In the 1990s, he worked alongside cellphone pioneer Martin Cooper at ArrayComm LLC, developing technology that enabled sharing of wireless spectrum for mobile services.

Google’s business is connecting people with information. Increasingly, those connections are wireless. One key, according to Cooper, is using wireless networks more efficiently.

“The science is there to do this, but you have to work hard to make it work and of all the people who have focused on this, Craig Barratt is among the most effective,” Mr. Cooper said.

Google declined to make Mr. Barratt available.

Barratt joined Google in mid-2013 from communications chip company Qualcomm, which acquired Atheros in 2011. Last year, he was named to the L-team, a select group of top executives who report directly to CEO Larry Page, one of the few outsiders in its ranks.

He is also responsible for Google Fiber, the company’s fast fiber-optic Internet service; oversees efforts to deliver Internet access from satellites and drones; and is developing plans to tap higher-frequency spectrum bands for new wireless-communication uses.

Google and Barratt want to increase the supply of radio spectrum that can be used for internet access, and ultimately lower the cost. Recent spectrum auctions attracted bids exceeding $US30 billion from wireless carriers including Verizon Communications and AT&T.

“This is an exclusive commodity and Craig would like to make it less exclusive. He’s taking steps at Google to do this,” said Rick Bahr, a former engineering executive at Qualcomm who worked with Barratt at Atheros.

In September, Barratt met with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to argue for making bandwidth more abundant, rather than encouraging telecom industry players to keep bandwidth scarce.

It all boils down to focus

Former colleagues and investors describe Barratt as one of the smartest people they know. He has three electrical engineering degrees and in his spare time designed a mobile app to remotely control lights, temperature and the pool cover at his home. He’s an avid cyclist and is known to return from bike trips with new software code written in his head.

At ArrayComm, he helped develop smart-antenna technology that helped send wireless signals to mobile devices in more focused ways. The system supported wireless networks in more than 20 countries at its peak, including one called iBurst that launched in Sydney, Australia in early 2004. The technology didn't catch on widely.

Last year, at Google, Barratt applied to the FCC to test millimeter-wave spectrum, which can transmit lots of data quickly over short distances, but so far hasn't been used much for wireless communications.

Michael Marcus of consulting firm Marcus Spectrum Solutions says these higher-frequency bands could be used for mobile services in cities if base stations and handsets use multiple antennas.

Barratt also oversaw Google’s acquisition of Alpental Technologies last year. The start-up was working on a millimeter-wave service for dense, urban areas that could extend existing fiber-optic networks, housed in a gadget the size of an iPod with a similar cost.

One challenge will be keeping the multiple projects focused on Google’s goal of increasing internet access. A person who left the Access group last year said Mr. Barratt sometimes gets too bogged down in the technical details of projects, at the expense of making the broader strategy clearer.

Google declined to comment. Other former colleagues said Barratt has leadership skills and the ability to dive deeply into the technology weeds.

—Ryan Knutson contributed to this article.