All the wireless carriers have been advertising their simplified plans and easy upgrade models, but it seems like more of the same. Google may change that.
In September 2012, Google officially launched its Google Fiber service in Kansas City, becoming a force of disruption for the firmly seated ISPs. Google fiber brings better service at a lower price and demands that the rest of the industry reacts to compete. Unfortunately the service is only available in a handful of cities, but as it expands it will continue to challenge the likes of Time Warner and Comcast.
Google’s initiatives in fiber and their Nexus program have been making people drool over the idea of a Google wireless network for years and a recent report from The Information (paywall) suggests that we will soon get just that. Sort of. According to The Verge, Google has had talks with both Sprint and Verizon and plans to provide their service at wholesale prices backed by fiber Wi-Fi hotspots.
One of the biggest obstacles to Google providing its own wireless service will be the fact that some (such as the US Department of Justice) may say they have too many fingers in too many pies. In this case, they will have their fingers in all the pies if you are using Google Nexus hardware with Google Android software on Google’s wireless network, but by going the route of an MVNO, Google doesn’t actually own the network and Verizon and Sprint will still get a piece of the pie, even if Google’s finger is in it.
This would also line up with a recent rumor for Google’s plans with their Voice and Hangouts platforms. Last month, BGR reported that Google may be about to drop Google Voice and roll its features in with Google Hangouts, since there is already some overlap there. Through both Voice and Hangouts, Google already has the ability to assign a phone number and manage your SMS.
The rumor also states that Google could be planning on expanding calling functionality through VoIP. Hangouts already offers a calling feature on a desktop, so Google already has many of the resources needed to begin offering wireless service over Wi-Fi. Agreements with existing carriers will just provide the data needed to extend this functionality beyond the constraints of Wi-Fi.
After all the noise T-Mobile has been making about being the “uncarrier,” Google would be able to show the true definition of what this means. Their network would likely be data only, using VoIP/VoLTE for voice calls and Hangouts for texting, so they could easily charge flat rate simple plans with no contract. T-Mobile claims to be contract free, but they have really just shifted the contracts off of the wireless service and onto the devices. Google’s Nexus program and similar low cost devices would mean consumers could save money on the device, the service, and avoid contracts.
It’s unknown if Google has similar plans for areas outside the United States, but it would be logical that the service would expand internationally if it is successful. Introducing a 5th major carrier will definitely disrupt the industry, but it will likely do the most damage to 4th place T-Mobile, considering Google would basically be eating its lunch on the backs of Verizon and Sprint’s networks.
Either way, if Google wireless service is anywhere near as disruptive as Google Fiber, then the carriers (especially AT&T), should be looking over their shoulder.