AH Primetime: How Could Google Use Project Nova, Their Own Carrier, To Disrupt The Industry

March 11, 2015 - Written By David Steele

Google’s entry into the cellular telecommunications business could be the start of a major disruption or it could be a small prod in the direction that it would like to see these businesses moving in. Sundar Pichai has downplayed Google’s MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) plans. We’ve also seen stories across the Internet that Google’s cell network could be similar to their Nexus device project: it has the potential to go mainstream and in some respects it has, but has been more a tool for demonstrating to the established manufacturers where Google is trying to position Android. However, we cannot ignore Google’s other plans to bring high speed, inexpensive Internet connections across the world including drones that can remain on station for weeks on end, hot air balloons and similar. Google could be building its own infrastructure for its own cell network rather than (fully) relying on the established telecommunications equipment, which in some areas is decades old. The new carrier project is called Project Nova and Sundar has explained that it’s intended to demonstrate experimental features and their feasibility to carriers to create a better experience for customers. The example cited is a dropped call and how it’s corrected when the device and network(s) recognize the issue and corrects it.

The obvious conclusion to the above example is that Google are building systems and infrastructure to handle cellular technologies working side by side with WiFi, but Project Nova must – surely – be much more than simply improving the handoff between WiFi and a mobile network. Instead, what features might Google be preparing and what would I like to see? For years now, our carriers have struggled to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Some carriers offer different devices and different services or bundled applications with devices or contracts as a way of encouraging customers to join the network. These are fine to a point, but what I really want from my carrier is not to worry about signal strength, data connection speeds and overuse charges. I dislike recycling an Apple idea, but I’m happy for a carrier to be a dumb (reliable, secure) pipe.

I should start off with pricing. Lower pricing is always good, but I don’t believe Google will be introducing prices that are significantly cheaper than the competition at least in numbers. Instead, I suspect we’ll see similar prices and a more restricted list of benefits, but what we will get, we’ll get lots of it. Perhaps Google will use a data cap unless we are using their applications and services? There may be a data cap for say Netflix but unlimited for Play Movies, YouTube, and Play Music downloads. Perhaps we may even see unlimited browsing if we’re using the Google Chrome browser? Suffice to say I would also want this service to be relatively free of international barriers. I am okay with a bias towards using WiFi over LTE (after all, WiFi uses less battery on my device).

Writing of carriers, I’m British and I find the UK carriers’ inability to cooperate when it comes to providing coverage but instead compete to be very frustrating. Google could help put an end to this by making the service carrier agnostic. There would be an element of smart technology employed, but I must roam off WiFi, I don’t want it locked to one carrier, but instead to use the best carrier and to be able to freely switch between carriers as it needs to. This will require a level of cooperation between carriers above what we currently have if it’s to include VoLTE (voice over LTE) technologies. Having a device that’s able to switch between carriers mid-way through a call is exactly the sort of technological challenge I’d like to see Google address.

We’ve covered how the SIM card containing a subscriber’s details is a legacy technology and is perhaps superfluous. The Internet of Things is coming; I don’t want my smartphone to be my only device with a number attached but instead I want to be able to communicate with people no matter what device(s) I have with me. Wouldn’t it be great if I can transfer my number to another device by a simple NFC-enabled tap between devices? And do I really need a number anyway? I don’t see the ubiquitous number going away for a few generations yet as people are too attached to their digits, but it doesn’t have to. It simply needs to follow me wherever I want it to… and it needs to seamlessly work with the Internet of Things. What ideas do you have that Google could do to be disruptive to the current market, but not to destroy the existing carriers or their willingness to work with Google going forward? Let us know in the comments below.