At last week’s Mobile World Congress, Google’s Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai confirmed rumors about the company’s new wireless service “experiment”. He revealed that Google will begin to transform itself into a wireless carrier in “the coming months.”
While not going so far as to say that Google will compete with the major wireless carriers, Pichai indicated that the firm will be selling wireless plans directly to smartphone buyers. Even though the company’s Android operating system and its universe of Google apps are successful largely because of the major operators, Google believes that model could work better for them if they were also a player in the wireless services market.
Google Is Reimagining Wireless
Instead of simply duplicating what the other wireless carriers are doing, Google is reimagining wireless. While it’s true that the company would have to lease capacity from second-tier carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, it plans on experimenting with new ways to deliver wireless connectivity.
Google is focusing on how Wi-Fi and cell networks work together and how they can make their interaction seamless. They are experimenting with ways for phones to move between cellular networks and Wi-Fi connections with ease. Google’s efforts may even drive the mobile market towards developing entirely new kinds of wireless networks.
One day, there may be networks that provide connections when callers don’t have access to cellular or Wi-Fi signals. Or, new networks may be designed to transmit cellular data at enormous speeds that are impossible using today’s technology.
Google Is Already a Major Force
In 2008, Google’s first major attempt at becoming a wireless carrier ended suddenly when it conceded the race for a valued piece of spectrum, the national 700MHz licence, to Verizon (in return for some ground-breaking open access conditions). In 2010, the company launched Google Fiber as an experiment that has since expanded super-high-speed Internet service to three cities, with four more in the works.
While the existence and rapid growth of Google Fiber is causing challenges for Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, the super-high-speed network is a double threat. That’s because Google could use the its fiber landline network to support wireless routers that have the capability of providing Wi-Fi service across a large geographic area. Combine that with Google’s newest cellular initiative and the company can achieve its goal of blending Wi-Fi and cellular.
Other Developments in Mobile Internet
Google isn’t the only force behind the direction that wireless services will be taking in the future. Steve Perlman’s pCell technology is also making an impact in the market. This is designed to deliver cellular signals at rates about 35 times faster than today’s signals by creating tiny ‘personal cells’ of coverage around users on an as-needed basis. And, it can be even faster as the technology improves.
Even though widespread use of pCell technology will require building new towers and designing new SIM cards for phones, it may be available soon. That’s because Perlman has recently struck a deal with Dish Network to build a pCell service in San Francisco using part of the satellite TV company’s wireless spectrum. Perlman is also targeting Kansas City where the existing Google Fiber landline can serve as a backbone to his wireless network.
The World of Cellular and Wi-Fi Is Evolving
Although it’s impossible to know what the future of cellular and Wi-Fi service will look like, one thing is clear. The market for mobile Internet is moving beyond the small group of major carriers. Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T will need to reexamine their role in the market and the quality of service they provide so that they can maintain market share while they compete with more innovative providers.