Jan 21, 2015

How will a Google wireless service be any different from all the MVNOs already out there?

Google has apparently entered into an agreement with T-Mobile and Sprint to sell voice and data directly to customers. That would be really great if they had the infrastructure and bandwidth to launch their own service, but this sounds exactly like what MVNOs like Boost and Virgin Mobile are already doing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I switched from a contract plan to Virgin myself, and the service is ok...the network isn’t quite as fast or widespread as it was with AT&T and the selection of decent phones is very limited, but the cost is about a third of what I was paying before. I can’t imagine Sprint would be selling Google wireless data and voice for so much less that Google could make it much cheaper than my $35 Virgin plan, and it’s on the same network (or T-Mo) so what could they bring to the table that isn’t already there?
Over the past few years, Internet companies Google, Facebook, Amazon have announced a series of investments in unconventional broadband access points mounted on drones, blimps, and satellites as well as more conventional fiber and wireless. The press releases accompanying these efforts emphasize enhanced access, competition, and development in underserved areas in the United States and around the world. During the telecommunications boom following the 1996 Telecommunications Act, it became apparent that incumbent telecommunications held a stranglehold over last mile connectivity. People like entrepreneurs Craig McCaw and Bill Gates also saw the potential of non-terrestrial solutions, investing in Teledesic, a satellite broadband start-up. These efforts did not succeed but the broadband landscape of 2015 is far different from that of 2001. Today, Internet companies are betting that demand for broadband along with consumer unhappiness with established telecommunications companies will fuel demand for alternate connectivity. Deployed, these technologies will enable Internet companies to overcome the last mile advantage held by telecommunications companies and deal directly with consumers while taking on the costs of administering a network.

But Internet companies do not just have their sights set on the United States. Internet companies see these same technologies as opening the door to new and existing users around the world. These technologies offer the legal advantages of high altitude and orbital broadband access points: they ascend out of the realm of sovereign territory and into international airspace. Internet companies diminish the need to interact with the many different legal regimes of states and instead interact with international law. They gain access users around the world at one stroke.
Probably the main thing will be quick updates to devices. Carriers are often the bottleneck for pushing updates, and many times devices are NEVER updated. This has gotten slightly better recently, but it’s still a big part of the reason that Android fragmentation is as much of an issue as it is. Also, it will allow Google to have an outlet for Nexus or Nexus-like devices that don’t have all of the carrier and/or manufacturer installed bloatware that eats up storage space and slows them down.

I doubt that Google will be able to offer significantly lower prices than the other MVNOs. It wouldn't make a lot of sense for Sprint or T-Mobile to make it so cheap that Google can undercut their own business on price. I bet it will be a good price, probably comparable to Virgin, but they will differentiate themselves more on hardware options and perhaps more data/minutes for the same money. Or perhaps they will integrate Google Hangouts so that customers won’t even need voice minutes and just use VoiP for talk.
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