On a basic level, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has to get more involved in wireless than it already is. WiMax – and eventually 4G – has the potential to get more people unwired and searching the Web on a multitude of mobile devices than ever before. To keep its ad revenues growing, Google needs to be the search engine of choice on more than just PCs and laptops. It needs to be on phones and whatever else emerges with the growth of 3G and the coming of 4G. Hence all the talk about a "Google Phone" from a company that doesn't do hardware. (See Google Hiring for Hardware Product Intro.)
The firm has also frequently stated its aim to promote and encourage Internet usage as widely as possible, backing this up with projects like the municipal WiFi mesh network in Mountain View, Calif. (See Google's WiFi Mountain.)
In fact, Google already has a pre-WiMax test system from Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) up in Mountain View that, I'm told, is being used to backhaul some of the WiFi mesh nodes. "The trial is still going strong," one source tells me.
Google's San Francisco muni WiFi network with EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) also has a provision for a higher-speed wireless broadband service on top of the WiFi. (See WiMax's Bay Window.)
I doubt, however, that Google would tackle the deployment of a major WiMax network on its own. The company already has teething problems with its Mountain View WiFi network. A larger WiMax setup is another order of magnitude altogether. (See WiFi Outlook Cloudy in Mountain View.)
I wouldn't be surprised, though, to see the company becoming a much more active partner in current and future wireless broadband deployments from operators like Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), and others. It would be similar to the way Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has tried to increase the takeup of wireless LAN and WiMax through both marketing and cash for startups and operators working with the technologies.
Sprint has already said that it is examining its options on how to pay for its 2008 WiMax deployment. The carrier told Unstrung recently that one option it is considering is getting corporations, landlords, and retailers to sponsor WiMax deployments in places like conference centers, arenas, and shopping malls.
If Sprint is considering such hotspot-like possibilities for funding WiMax, then it's not difficult to see how Google – and others – could play a sugar daddy role in the industry.
Beyond that, I would look for Google to invest in a WiMax startup, quite possibly software-related, as this technology becomes more of a reality on the market.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung