It's All Falling Into Place
It’s no secret that Google wants to deploy Android on the world in order to provide advertising to as many people as possible. As they up their marketing game and move to the focused, location-based advertising, Google knows more people are going mobile than ever before. These next few years will see a record number of people getting away from the PC and laptop and moving towards mobile internet devices and handsets. In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that your 5 year old nephew might laugh when he later comes across pictures of your “huge” notebook from the early part of the century.
The picture is becoming more clear each week as we put the puzzle pieces together that make up the Google Android agenda. Let’s take a look at 4 key components that may ultimately factor in to Google’s wireless endgame. We’ll be examining each of these in a hypothetical-only fashion. I’m not affiliated with Google in any capacity, nor do I have any type of “inside” direction here, so take this as one big educated guess.
700MHz & Wi-Fi 2.0
Although the auction ended last week and “winners” have been announced, we won’t get the true reactions and talking points for another 10 days. Verizon is taking home the biggest swath with the ‘C’ block that ended up going for $4.74 billion. Since the reserve price was met, the big stipulation for Verizon was that they must allow any device capable of operating on their network the right to do so. After petitioning the FCC for this caveat, Google pledged that they would participate in the auction. Speculation was rampant over whether or not they were truly interested in bidding, let alone deep enough to build out an entire network. Now that other companies are walking around nearly $20 billion lighter, Google was able to get a ‘win’ without spending a dime. They don’t have to worry about investing billions of their own money to build a network capable of running Android devices.
Yesterday we learned that Google is interested in the little slices of spectrum known as the “white spaces” between where channels are broadcast using the 700MHz range. They, along with companies like Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft believe that there is tons of untapped potential to kick start Wi-Fi 2.0 next year when analog television stops broadcasting there. Able to provide speeds much faster than what we have today, users would be able to watch television and transfer files in sizes not even dreamed of a few years back. Not only is Google interested in getting this off the ground, but to show how committed they are to this, they are offering free tech support to third parties hoping to use the white spaces.
There was talk back in February that Google might be looking to partner up with, or buy out, a company called Space Data Corp. Whether or not that happens might not matter. Perhaps Google was only looking to find a dirt cheap way to build out a network should they have wound up holding the slip for the ‘C’ block of the 700MHz spectrum. Maybe now, since they won’t have to create a network, they don’t need Space Data Corp.
On the other hand, the balloons might still come into play with a nationwide Wi-Fi network. If Google ends up getting the FCC to allow broadcasting on the white spaces, then we might see a huge network of crazy fast Wi-Fi courtesy of Google, Time Warner, Comcast, Intel, and Clearwire. All on the backbone of a Sprint XOHM WiMax system. Putting transmitters up 20 miles in the air and providing lightning-quick speeds to mobile internet users is a no-brainer. It’s a fraction of the cost of building towers and there’s no messy zoning restrictions. Wanna watch the Daytona 500 while out on the lake? You probably will be able to do just that with an MID within the next few years.
Back in 2004 when the capability to “port” your number from carrier to carrier came about, people were ecstatic over the idea of switching companies and taking their number with them. No longer tied to one carrier because associates and friends had your cell phone number, you were free to search for a better deal. It’s my opinion that this was one of the first steps in establishing which companies had the best rates and customer service. For far too long, customers were shackled to old rate plans and sub-par service. Today, you’re able to switch providers at will and the idea of keeping your phone number is a no-brainer.
Last summer Google acquired a startup known as GrandCentral. It was not known what they planned to do with this company, but looking at it as a part of a plan, one can see where it might fit with Google’s goals. GrandCentral offers an entirely different animal altogether. For starters, they give you a universal phone number that allows you to be reached at home, work, or on the cell phone. All ring at the same time so you’re able to field the call wherever it’s most convenient. Throw in some other standards like voice mail, call screening, and filtering, and you have the basic features that make up most wireless plans.
As far as networks go, the onus is on your current provider(s). Google doesn’t have to worry about building a single tower and there’s no messy billing or customer issues associated with it. As we move towards Voice Over IP (VOIP), people are able to send and receive calls using wireless networks. Imagine being able to use a Wi-Fi network practically anywhere in the country. You know what would make a great, wide-open, fast Wi-Fi network…?
Google doesn’t want to be a network provider. That’s been pretty much established. All they really want to do is get their advertising in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible. For years now, the carriers in the US have had a choke hold on consumers. They control what phones run on their network and which applications are loaded on them. Google is in a unique position where they offer something that could get implemented into any handset out there, regardless of carrier. Their search engine has become ubiquitous and essentially nowhere will you find somebody who does not prefer it.
By making nice with the carriers, Google will find it faces virtually no resistance when it begins putting their search tools into J2ME, Windows Mobile, and all of the other garden variety of operating systems. Creating something for everyone, no carrier will want to be the one saying ‘No thanks, we’re not going to implement that into our line of BlackBerry handsets.’
Further, Google has officially partnered up with 7 major network operators from around the world to bring forth Android. Together with 28 other companies from various fields, the Open Handset Alliance was formed. The service providers from the US are T-Mobile and Sprint. One is a company on it’s way up, another has had their share of troubles of late. Both offer technologies and services that the other could learn from. As time goes, we’ll see just what commitments the carriers are making, but I’m guessing that they are already reserving shelf space for Android phones.
There are 4 founding members of the OHA who manufacture handsets. They are LG, Samsung, Motorola, and HTC. So far, we know that 3 of these companies have already committed to providing handsets that run Android. With the end of this year coming faster than most realize, HTC has announced that the “Dream” will be their first handset to offer the new platform. Most experts have forecasting this to be the first Android device, but if Samsung has anything to do with that, they’ll be out of the gate first. At 3GSM/Mobile World Congress, we learned that LG has plans for a device due out early ’09. The only one left to say anything in an official capacity is Motorola. With the recent troubles they’ve been having, I’m not surprised at all that there have been no mentions. They have bigger fish to fry right now.
The beauty of an open source platform is that you don’t need any particular company to be on board in an official capacity. You just need the right mix of hardware. There’s already been a handful of devices hacked to run Android that were never designed to work as a phone to begin with. As well, a couple of relatively unknown handset makers anticipate creating phones that handle the software in addition to the 4 big names in the OHA. Google was not exaggerating last fall when they said Android will run on thousands of phones.
Even though there are only 34 companies who are considered founding members of the Open Handset Alliance, that does not mean there aren’t other organizations lined up to help usher in a new era of mobile connectivity. Android will find a place to fit in with the current platforms being offered today. A lot of tech insiders are calling for Google and Apple to be the big two names in the cellular industry this year and beyond. How each acts and reacts will determine the trends that the rest of the world will follow. Apple has a definite head start on Google, that’s for sure. But Google has something that will put them out in front before long – a true vision of the future. Before most realize it, the iPhone will be shown to be nothing more than a glossy interface with not much under the hood. Google, on the flip side, will prove that what a phone can do is more important than how it looks.
In a few years, we’ll all be able to look back on these seemingly insignificant moves and see just how long they’ve been building their new empire. Little partnerships and acquisitions will make more sense once we’re able to look back and see why Google was doing the things they were. It’s that whole “hindsight being 20/20″ thing.
Stick around, it’s going to be a fun ride!