Mobile services

Google Confirms Scaled-Down MVNO Plans

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2015 -- A Google senior vice president has confirmed the Android maker's plans to be a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in the US with more details to be revealed in the coming months.

Speaking here in Barcelona, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) SVP of Products Sundar Pichai said that the company doesn't intend to be a carrier at scale, but it is working with its existing partners, and "you'll see some of our ideas come to fruit in the next few months."

A rumor resurfaced recently that Google would launch its own wireless service using a combination of WiFi and MVNO deals with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. to wholesale their network access. According to a Verge live chat of his talk Monday, Pichai didn't name names, though he all but confirmed the report, saying Google is at the stage that it needs to think of hardware, software and connectivity together. (See T-Mobile: Google & Dish Could Be 'Interesting' Partners, Google Searching for 5G Wireless Engineer and Verizon Ready for Google MVNO Challenge.)

When asked by Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone if AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless would have a problem with this, Pichai said that he's talked to all the wireless operators about this and is working with some partners to do what it's doing.

"Carriers in the US are what powers most of our Android phones and that model works really well for us," he said, according to the Verge. When asked if Google's goal was to lower wireless prices, Pichai added, "we're trying to show innovations, like calls automatically reconnecting if someone drops on one end. Those are the kinds of ideas we're pursuing with this project."

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According to Pichai, what Google is interested in doing in the wireless space is similar to the approach it's taken to handset development and mobile broadband. Google makes its own line of Nexus devices, but still works with all its partners to provide the operating system for their own devices. In the mobile broadband market, it offers Google Fiber Inc. in several markets as a way, it says, to spur on the market on and bring faster speeds for all. (See Google's Nexus 6 'Phablet' Is LTE-A Ready and Does Google Fiber Have Renewed Euro Ambitions?)

Google sees the same role for itself in the wireless industry, even if the mobile operators aren't likely to take kindly to the new competition. This is hardly the extent of its plans though -- the software giant is also working on bringing connectivity to the masses via Project Loon connectivity balloons, along with airplanes that will work with the balloons, under Project Titan. It's also exploring drones via its acquisition last year of Titan Aerospace, and it's pursuing satellite communications with a $1 billion investment in SpaceX, which plans to launch satellites into space to beam connectivity down below. (See The New Internet Space Race: Google's Final Frontier?, SpaceX Nabs $1B From Google for Satellite Internet, Google Working With FAA on US Drone License and Broadband: It's All Hot Air for Google.)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
mhhf1ve 3/3/2015 | 11:15:13 PM
Re: Google Wireless I don't think the Google MVNO pricing will be all that interesting, actually. As an MVNO, they can't really do much of a discount below T-Mo or Sprint pricing -- unless they're not treating this as a business and make it into some kind of loss leader for other services. But I don't think Google is going to make a "free wireless service" that's ad-supported or even "discounted with ads" because that would probably stir up the privacy folks too much. And if they try a "free/discounted wireless" with Google Play content, they run into some net neutrality problems, too.

I think it's much more likely that Google MVNO pricing will be ho-hum sorta competitive (ie, about the same as T-mo or Sprint pricing) and that Google will try to make their MVNO service seem like a much better value by adding cool features like automated call-drop-reconnection and Google Voice features that filter out robocalls, etc. Google will show consumers what it's like to have a clean Android experience that isn't cluttered with junky Carrier apps and bloatware. Perhaps Google will even be able to charge a premium for these cool functions that even Apple will not be able to provide.
KBode 3/2/2015 | 4:00:10 PM
Re: Google Wireless I'd agree. A bit smaller than some of the early rumors suggested, though. I'll be very interested to see the pricing on this offering -- and how it differs from efforts like Cablevision's new service.
sarahthomas1011 3/2/2015 | 2:50:22 PM
Google Wireless When you think about Google becoming a wireless operator in light of all the other moves it has made, it seems obvious that it would do so. I mean it already has balloons, jets, satellites, drones, fiber, devices, software and apps -- why not add traditional cellular service in the mix?! I like it's strategy to start small and push the envelop -- or hedge its bets, depending on how you look at it -- but this move is definitely going to make the wireless operators nervous, even if it is on a small scale.
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