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AH Primetime: Google’s MVNO and What It Means for the Industry

April 13, 2015 - Written By Phil Bourget

Google.  The name graces many of our search engine queries, and most of the ads we see while browsing the Internet, possibly through Google’s Chrome browser, and even perhaps on a Google Chrome OS-powered laptop or desktop.  The search giant that has its fingers and toes in all sorts of pies, cakes, and cups of pudding, from getting you search results to helping you track your website’s attraction rate, from offering its services as apps through its digital marketplace to making some of the most coveted smartphones like the Nexus 5 and 6.  As a jack of all trades, Google has to worry about many things, and adding another seems like a small task, except that the latest addition to the Big G’s repertoire of services and tools is a wireless network.

The idea of a Google-sourced wireless service connection isn’t that new, if you think back to Google Voice, which offered a phone number that let you text and call people through your web browser and Internet-connected device.  At the time, it was a great idea, especially since many people had Gmail or Google accounts, and this made keeping in touch while abroad, or just getting a work number, that much easier and cheaper.  With Google’s progress toward the MVNO business, there are a few things that we as consumers of Google’s Internet, as well as possible customers of its service once it launches.

First, this won’t be huge at first.  Think about Verizon Wireless in the United States.  They have over 130 million subscribers.  Google probably has that many cat videos indexed and on YouTube right now.  Google will not have that many customers for its wireless service, and it likely won’t after a year of its existence.  The reason is that Google doesn’t care, or doesn’t have to, about how many people use their service, and the ones that can, not will, will likely be limited to those lucky and highly-paid enough to afford a Nexus 6, since it’s got the radios to work with all four of the United States’ major carriers, as well as many bands that are compatible in countries in Europe, South America, and Asia.  And that is the important part, the international aspect.

Google’s plan to launch a wireless service with limited compatibility for devices is looking more and more like it’ll do something along the lines of what Voice did when it launched: offer low-cost international calls.  International calls, regardless of which services provider you have in whichever country, are expensive, especially if you’re the one that’s international and placing the call.  Google is looking more and more like it will help those folks that are from outside the United States and let them pay a lower price to use a Google plan to call and text home while here.  And there’s the problem and mystery of cost.

We have no, that’s zero, nada, zilch, clue about pricing for Google’s wireless service, and that could be a good thing for the time being.  Think: if we had a rough price scale, based on a monthly general access kind of scheme, or a per-message or per-megabyte kind of plan, what would we be talking about now?  We’d be arguing about the fairness or lack of for how high or low it’s priced, or just how they would carry out their plan to roll ads out before every call you plan on placing, or even how they might add a bit.ly address as a signature on every text message, advertising for a recently-searched-for item you have in your search history.  How Google prices their wireless service will be paramount to its success or the only talking point in the case of its failure, and it will come out as the launch date looms and more details come out about it.

The biggest thing to consider with Google’s wireless service plan is to know what it means not only for us customers, but also for competing wireless providers both internal and external to the United States.  Google Voice is what Skype should have been, and Skype is still playing catch-up in many people’s opinions.  Google Fiber, the company’s wired Internet service that exists in less than 15 locations and is contained to the United States, offered both a huge speed boost over normal Internet providers, but also offered it for a reasonable cost.  Now, we see Internet providers moving slowly towards a possibly more Fiber-like existence.  And now, with Google’s MVNO business on the horizon, the wireless service providers are likely waiting for more details to come out to know what to prepare for and consider changing inside their own businesses.  Imagine that, when Google’s service has been in service for a few months, a carrier like AT&T or Three adds a reasonable roaming plan.  Google will be setting a new model for wireless service, and that’s what seems to be the company’s forte aside from search: offering a model and showing an industry what is possible with it.

Though we know almost nothing about Google’s plan for launching a wireless carrier, we know Sprint and T-Mobile are likely in on the deal, as well as maybe using Wi-Fi to call and text more freely when not in a service area.  We know that Google has big plans for it, and it will be more than interesting to see how things unfold and launch for the Big G.  Would you consider getting a second or travel phone from Google’s service once it launches?