Could Google Wireless Be the Next Google Fiber?
The rumors were true: Google is planning a wireless service that could launch sometime this year. But it's not going to become a full carrier, owning spectrum bands and infrastructure itself -- which is precisely why "Google Wireless" could shake up the industry.
As we previously reported, rumors going back a year have discussed the possibility that Google could sell mobile phone plans for voice and data, carried by other established wireless networks -- specifically Sprint and T-Mobile.
At a keynote and Q&A at the Mobile World Congress 2015 on Monday, Google's Senior VP of Android, Chrome and Google Apps Sundar Pichai confirmed the plan, along with a few details.
"I think we're at the stage where we need to think of hardware, software, and connectivity together, especially with things like watches," said Pichai as reported on the MWC scene in Barcelona, Spain, by The Verge. "We don't intend to be a carrier at scale, and we're working with existing partners. You'll see some of our ideas come to fruit in the next few months."
Reselling other carriers' spectrum -- i.e., voice and data network capacity by the minute or megabyte to customers -- would put Google's new venture in the position of a "mobile virtual network operator" (MVNO).
You might be familiar with the concept through common prepaid MVNOs like Cricket Wireless or Boost Mobile, which are subsidiaries (respectively) of AT&T and Sprint. But of course Google isn't a subsidiary of any of the four major wireless companies, and probably doesn't intend on becoming one.
Instead, Google's wireless service would likely partner with Sprint and T-Mobile to use the data or voice networks they own, and find ways to supplement coverage through WiFi and other innovative wireless arrangements, much the way Freedom Pop made headlines earlier this year by offering 10 million WiFi hotspots for unlimited data a low monthly rate.
For Google, it would likely be a similar plan -- likely lowering consumers' data costs by bridging signals from an amalgam of sources -- but on a Google-sized scale.
However, Pichai downplayed the project's impact on the wireless industry's powerful incumbents. When asked if he expected pushback from Verizon and/or AT&T, Pichai stated, "We've talked with them about all this, we're working with some partners to do what we're doing. Carriers in the U.S. are what powers most of our Android phones and that model works really well for us."
On the other hand, Pichai -- though cautious in what details he leaked -- promised Google would bring some interesting features not available on conventional networks so far. "We're trying to show innovations, like calls automatically reconnecting if someone drops on one end," he said. "Those are the kinds of ideas we're pursuing with this project."
It's hard not to think of "Google Wireless," as unobtrusive as Pichai might paint the early-stages project, without Google Fiber coming to mind.
Google's wire line gigabit network also began small, but is expanding to four more metropolitan areas this year (with five more on the possible list). And it's put significant competitive pressure on incumbents wherever it's gained a foothold.
"We want to break down the barriers on how connectivity works," said Pichai in Spain this week.
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