Google's Mobile Future Certain to Have Big Impact on Telecom

Carl Weinschenk

It's difficult to avoid stories that deal on some level with the the future of Google and telecommunications. In some cases, the story reports on some telecom-related news from search giant. In others, the writer speculates on what may be in the offing.


This Red Herring piece is keyed on a rather significant piece of news not directly involving Google: Sprint Nextel has pulled out of SpectrumCo., the moniker-challenged consortium that includes Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Comcast and Brighthouse. The group, according to this xchange piece, last year won 137 licenses in the advanced wireless spectrum auction, but has not announced any plans for the spectrum. Perhaps Sprint got frustrated -- or perhaps it saw a more promising partner.


The speculation in the Red Herring piece is that exiting from the cable consortium is a sign that Sprint is cozying up with Google. Or, we should say, further cozying up. The companies announced a deal late last month under which Google will use Sprint's nascent WiMax network to reach customers with search, collaboration and social networking functions.


Though the goal clearly is wireless and mobility, all networks have wired elements. This article in the (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, though aimed at consumers, does a good job of suggesting how Google may gradually be positioning itself as a company that could control its own distribution. In addition to the WiMax deal with Sprint, the company owns lots of dark fiber. This fiber, which it uses ostensibly to connect its data centers, would be very handy in a number of distribution scenarios. Google also is toying with the idea of bidding on 700 MHz spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making available as television broadcasters move to other regions as part of the transition to digital broadcasting.


The future of Google's telecom initiatives are entwined with the even more significant issue of the 700 MHz spectrum. This Bloomberg story says that the FCC has adopted rules that will mandate that customers be able to use any wireless device, not just those approved by the carrier. The story said that Google's suggestion that carriers be obliged to lease capacity at discounted rates to competitors was not adopted. The bottom line is that Google -- which had pledged to bid $4.6 billion if certain conditions were met-- is now unsure of what it will do.


Still another piece of the puzzle is the rumored development of a "GPhone." This Mobile Tech Today piece does a good job of tracing the chatter -- which was originated and pushed by The Wall Street Journal, the Telegraph in the UK and Reuters -- that Google is working with HTC in Taiwan to develop a Linux-based phone that would come loaded with Google search, e-mail and maps. T-Mobile would be the carrier in the U.S. and Orange in Europe. The phone would launch in the first quarter of next year.


This CNET commentary outlines the various moves by Google. The bottom line is that nobody -- perhaps even Google itself -- really knows precisely how it will ensure access to its mobile customers. It can be done through deals with carriers -- or in full or partial competition with them. The sense is that Google and the large mobile carriers are suspicious of each other. Such uncertainty tends to slow down the process.

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