The Cloud

Google Throws Its Hat Into Wireless Ring

The service will be small-scale, says a Google executive, and intended to "drive a set of innovations we think the system should adopt."
Matthew HellerMarch 2, 2015
Google Throws Its Hat Into Wireless Ring

Google is gearing up for a move into wireless services that would allow it to offer plans to consumers without having to build and maintain a network.

Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai, who oversees the Android operating system, told a conference in Spain on Monday that the service would be small-scale and not intended to compete with the big four national carriers in the United States.

“You will see us announce it in the coming months,” Pichai said. “Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt.”

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But however limited Google’s move may be, The Wall Street Journal said it “is likely to send ripples through a business long controlled” by Verizon Communications, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. It also sends “a strong signal that Google’s ambitions extend beyond selling Internet services to influencing how the Internet is delivered.”

Pichai’s comments confirmed earlier reports that Google had signed so-called mobile virtual network operator agreements with Sprint and T-Mobile, whereby the carriers would sell excess capacity to Google. In return, the WSJ reported, Google would be able to “offer wireless service without taking on the daunting, expensive burden of building and maintaining a network.”

Similar agreements have enabled Tracfone Wireless, a unit of Mexican carrier America Movil, to grow into the fifth-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. by offering cheap service carried on other companies’ networks.

“Google’s not exactly going to face off against the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world, but it is going to cozy up to them,” Gizmodo explained. Like the Google-branded Nexus phone, which is made by other manufacturers, the service would be “more like a Google-designed wireless plan but actually delivered by [another company].”

Pichai said Monday that Google would partner with carriers to launch the service, but didn’t name them. “We don’t intend to be [a] network operator at scale,” he said at the telecom industry’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Featured image: Thinkstock