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What’s Google Really Up to in Wireless?

News of Google getting into wireless service via an MVNO reseller relationship with Sprint and T-Mobile has many wondering what Google is really up to in wireless.

What is Google’s wireless vision? And what are Google’s wireless business, technology and lobbying strategies?

We naturally tend to look at things through the narrow lens of what we currently know, but in the case of Google, which is always looking at things through a much more expansive and disruptive lens of what could be technologically, we must take a big picture perspective. Otherwise, we would miss the proverbial “forest” of Google’s grand GoogleNet networking scheme “for the trees” of what we know and see before us.

Big picture, what is Google really up to in wireless?

Google’s Wireless Vision is to supplant much of the current commercial wireless Internet with a ubiquitous, free, public, gigabit, dumb, wireless pipe.

More specifically, Google’s wireless vision is wireless network virtualization, by optimizing software-defined-radio algorithms to decrease the average cost of consumer wireless Internet access to near free, while simultaneously increasing the available speed of wireless Internet access to 1 Gigabit per second speeds, by leveraging the high-speed capabilities of the 802.11ac WiFi networking standard, by dynamically optimizing access to any available free shared-spectrum (WiFi/unlicensed or government-shared free spectrum), by being software-agnostic to transmission technology or spectrum band (WiFi, fixed and mobile wireless, satellite, drones, balloons, etc.), and by being hardware/device agnostic, to create a ubiquitous, virtualized, near-free, very-high-speed wireless broadband access network for any device and the Internet of things -- in less than ten years.  

In this context, Google’s MVNO is a very important stepping stone and expedient accelerant of Google’s long-term wireless vision by creating reliable fallback and fill-in access for users as Google experiments, iterates, and learns to minimize its use and cost of commercial spectrum from Sprint/T-Mobile, as it tries to maximally use free, unlicensed or government-shared spectrum.

In a nutshell, as competitors specialize and optimize commercial spectrum for a particular commercial hardware-driven technology or service, Google’s holistic wireless software virtualization vision for near-free Gigabit access, is to scale and optimize for the entire Internet ecosystem and for Google’s near-perfectly, vertically-integrated suite of free, ad-supported, products and services.  

Google’s Wireless Data Vision: Operating Android ,the dominant mobile operating system with 85% global market share, allows Google to collect, back-up, analyze, and organize most all wireless-enabled activity, which uniquely provides Google with the operational data for Google to pull off a national, near-free, virtualized, wireless network (i.e. WiFi hotspot locations, availability, speed, historical utilization patterns; and other Android devices’ locations, usage, and availability, in order to share bandwidth peer-to-peer, etc.).  

Google’s Wireless Business Strategy: Lowering the cost, and increasing the speed of wireless access for Google’s users drives more usage of Google and hence more opportunity to serve ads and drive revenue growth. Additional benefits of this strategy is commoditizing a key business input to Google’s financial success, while neutralizing and disintermediating potential competitive threats from the wireless industry before they can emerge.  

Technology Strategy: Google’s technological advantage is wireless network virtualization via the “open” software advantage of Google’s dominant Android mobile operating system, in stark contrast to the proprietary physical infrastructure advantage of wireless providers owning spectrum, cell tower access, fiber backbones, and stores.

Google believes its software virtualization strategy enjoys a huge technological cost and efficiency advantage long term because of the unmatched scale and scope advantage of Google’s virtual users, offerings, and capabilities. While traditional proprietary wireless network providers are focused on competing among themselves, based on physical infrastructure differentiation, Google is focused on changing the entire wireless competition game, by making it more about software than hardware or physical assets, which enables Google to commoditize and disintermediate all wireless competitors long term, including the ones they plan to resell.

Google’s Wireless Lobbying strategy: Possibly the most important and underappreciated part of what Google is up to in wireless is their highly-successful lobbying strategy for a wireless industrial policy that strongly favors free and government-shared spectrum over freeing up government spectrum for auction.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, via his membership of the President’s Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) has persuaded the Administration to de facto change national spectrum policy from freeing-up under-utilized government spectrum for commercial auction, to government retaining ownership of vast amounts of prime, underutilized, government spectrum and sharing it with Google, and others, for free.

Simply, America’s now Google-driven spectrum policy has in effect turned the Federal Government into a major de-facto muni-broadband “competitor” to the commercial wireless industry long-term, by “free-WiFi-izing” vast amounts of commercially-valuable spectrum that otherwise would have been auctioned to the private sector, for the benefit of the American taxpayer.

When people scoff at Google envisioning a national free gigabit wireless network, they obviously are not aware of how much spectrum Google has gotten effectively reallocated long-term from government use to Google’s use (and others’ use) – for free. Most don’t appreciate that this U.S. Google-spectrum industrial policy potentially could create as much or more “shared-spectrum” for free public use than is available to the commercial wireless ISP industry for auction.   

Few appreciate that U.S. Spectrum policy has effectively shut down the spectrum auction pipeline for commercially valuable spectrum below 3GHz. The only material spectrum in the auction pipeline is the congressionally-mandated 600 MHz incentive auction of TV broadcast spectrum. The reason the last AWS auction raised an astonishingly-high $45 billion in revenues for the U.S. Treasury, four-times most estimates, is because commercially-desired spectrum has become extremely scarce by U.S.-Google policy design.   

Google also has been a major behind-the-scenes lobbying and funding source fueling the Gigabit Cities movement, and its sister muni-broadband movement. Given that U.S. spectrum policy has been tacitly and quietly changed into a de facto muni-broadband, free-mesh-WiFi policy, it should be of no surprise that the Administration and the FCC are planning to try and preempt twenty states’ laws prohibiting government-run broadband networks where there are commercial alternatives.

Finally, why is Google supporting Administration and FCC plans to reclassify broadband as a Title II telephone utility?  

Google appreciates that FCC Title II-defined net neutrality is attempting to enforce a “dumb-pipe-ISP” model that by design neuters the economics of the current commercial ISP model over time to make room for Google’s preferred free, public, government-controlled Internet access system.    

This is what Google’s really up to in wireless.


GoogleNet Series

Part 1: Will Google become Softbank-Sprint’s Silent Partner? [10-18-12]

Part 2: DropCam Key to Google’s New Ubiquitous Surveillance Network [6-24-14]

Part 3: Google’s WorldWideWatch Over the WorldWideWeb [9-14]

Part 4: The GoogleNet Playbook & Zero-Pricing – A Special Report [11-18-14]