We’ve written here several times about Google’s probable bid on 700mhz wireless spectrum licenses that will be auctioned by the FCC in January, 2008. This morning the Wall Street Journal has a kind of free-ranging article that explores a variety of possibilities and scenarios that could come out of Google winning spectrum licenses or pursuing other ways to tap high-speed wireless networks. These efforts are contemplated as a way to both “open up” the US wireless market and/or provide wireless Internet access as a hedge against non-net neutrality. But becoming a wireless operator carries with it challenges and “political” risks for Google.
There are the non-trivial challenges of providing complete and quality network coverage. Verizon has spent lots of money trying to establish the strongest network in the US wireless market. This requires expenditures well above and beyond the nearly $5 billion that Google may bid to win the licenses themselves. There are also the ongoing challenges of running a wireless carrier, and so on.
Then there’s the matter of Android. Google needs to build the widest acceptance of Android it can among carriers in the US (and abroad). If the company cannot, arguably Android becomes “just another” platform that developers have to worry about. However, if Google effectively starts to compete with operators, they might be less than enthusiastic about participating or putting out phones using the platform.
But Android also doesn’t entirely solve the problem Google is trying to solve: opening up the wireless market in the US. Carriers could theoretically create locked or closed phones using the platform that would “strip out” all the Google applications, thereby partly defeating the purpose of the open platform. That may be one of several factors helping motivate this additional push into direct wireless access.
There are many people who believe that Google may be getting into territory that is “beyond its depth” with some of these ambitions. I would imagine some at AT&T wireless are watching this drama unfold with a mixture of genuine trepidation and considerable skepticism.
Yet until the licenses are auctioned and won, it’s all just more speculation. We can say with certainty that Google does seem extremely determined to accelerate the development of the mobile Internet and is pursuing that goal on several fronts.
In a very amusing moment in the Journal article cited above, it says “Google has hired game-theory specialists to help plot its auction strategy.”