Google have provided us with more detail over their plans to become a branded mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015. Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President (Products) told attendees: “We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale. We are working with carrier partners. You’ll see our answer in coming months. Our goal is to drive a set of innovations we think should arrive, but do it a smaller scale, like Nexus devices, so people will see what we’re doing.” And this statement is perhaps more interesting than if Sundar had stood up and announced that Google were planning on disrupting the industry by offering cheap wireless service to any and all customers. It seems that Google are not prepared to tread on the toes of their carrier partners by offering their own branded wireless service at a hefty discount. It’s also unclear how Google are to manage and control their service.
The parallel with Google’s Nexus program is interesting. We have now seen six generations of Nexus smartphones and the original Nexus One was a very expensive device, which sold in a limited number and was never designed to be a mainstream product. The later Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus were closer to mainstream devices but were still expensive and the current Nexus 6 is a premium product and priced accordingly. The two odd ones out are the LG-made Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, which were upper mid range devices sold at mid-range prices. Are Google going to emulate the premium Nexus side of things with their wireless service? Or is their focus going to be more on the technology platform side of things, with the Google MVNO more for the technologically adventurous few of us because there will be relatively little support provided? The Nexus devices are designed to show the smartphone industry the direction that Google was pushing Android, to introduce new hardware platforms and ideas. It’s met with mixed success: the Galaxy Nexus’ Texas Instruments chipset did not see widespread adoption and Samsung have continuously reinvented Google’s wheel by refusing to adopt to new standards.
The industry could do with something of a nudge. We’ve seen carriers and MVNOs introduce WiFi-biased systems but most of these rely heavily on cellular backed up connection and there’s a hefty price attached to this. Google could try something of a similar vein, perhaps using their Fiber network to provide WiFi coverage? Google’s investment may be on the technology side of things so as to encourage the carriers to work together and with WiFi coverage to provide customers with a seamless experience: no more dropped calls when the device roams from WiFi to LTE. We’ve seen carriers across the world striving towards this objective but despite the work accomplished, we’ve yet to achieve this. Google’s resources should help solve this problem.
And perhaps this is Google’s plan all along: to give the industry a nudge in the right direction rather than try to upset the apple cart. Offering customers cheap mobile Internet access does not necessarily have to mean cheap wireless cellular connections, but may mean opening up high performance WiFi networks instead. Building the technology to allow seamless transferring of calls across different networks. Demonstrating to the carriers that they need not add various layers on top of the device and experience to add value for customers; a large part of the Nexus appeal is that there is no carrier bloat. Perhaps the Nexus MVNO will offer just that: a streamlined service, not necessarily the fastest, cheapest or most comprehensive. This limits the appeal and keeps things on a small scale.