Confirming rumors circulating for some time, Google today said it will indeed launch its own wireless Internet service later this year. But the Internet giant said it plans to do so on a small scale, to prove there’s a better way to combine free WiFi-based phone and data services with cellular networks.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products, told an audience at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona that Google will announce more details of its plan to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO, offering service for smartphones under its own brand. Recent reports said Google will work with T-Mobile and Sprint to provide cellular network coverage in cases when WiFi isn’t available, even to the extent of resuming a call on those networks if it gets dropped.
It’s yet another in a long line of moves by Google to push often recalcitrant industry players along. That includes its Android mobile software (which arguably has become a profit center of sorts if you count some $10 billion in gross app revenues), its Nexus phones and tablets (which surely don’t bring in much if any profit), its fiber broadband service in several cities (probably the closest analog), all the way back to its 2008 bid for radio spectrum (which it lost, perhaps purposely, to get Verizon and others to buy it and eventually expand wireless Internet access).
While Google at times in the past has been more cagey about its intentions when it introduces products and services outside its core, this time it was quite clear about why it’s doing this. It isn’t trying to become a large-scale wireless operator, Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products, told attendees:
“We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale. We are working with carrier partners. You’ll see our answer in coming months. Our goal is to drive a set of innovations we think should arrive, but do it a smaller scale, like Nexus devices, so people will see what we’re doing.”
In other words, it’s the latest example of how Google has become a master of the nudge. All of those moves are intended to push software developers, hardware partners, carriers, and competitors to improve their products and services, because the better the hardware, software, and Internet access they provide, the better Google’s advertising business does.