Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps
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13th December 2015 | By:

Could Google’s Cellular Network Pave The Way For #IOT?

Google has made the headlines many times over the past weeks and even months with speculation (and now confirmation) that they plan to offer cellular network services. At a glance, this seems quite logical. They created the Android mobile OS that has become a serious contender for Apple (let alone Nokia, Blackberry etc.), they design and develop most of the technology in the Nexus line of phones (which arguably leads the way for Android phones on several fronts), so it almost makes sense that they would take the next step and provide cellular services and plans. But how far could their plans really go?

It’s interesting to note that a lot of media coverage has focused on Google not being a threat to the large operators. There has been emphasis on Google becoming a ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operator’ or MVNO for short, which essentially means they don’t own the network infrastructure itself – rather they get wholesale rates from the main carriers, and then sell this on at retail prices[1].

However, ironically at the same time that this was announced, there have also been numerous rumours about Google’s interest in using drones to deliver network coverage. This is where the possibilities get really interesting. Suddenly, we have one of the most powerful companies in the world, with a recently acquired drone company (Titan), the intention of providing network services, and the potential to do it in a totally new way. Sounds like the type of project they might just pull off.

As much as we may hide behind our innate skepticism of such a plan ever working – let’s think back to the days before Google Maps. Even the mere concept of mapping most of the world seemed somewhere between impossible and insane… before Google came along and did just that. Today, everyone uses Google Maps as though it was an inherent part of their life – but only a few years ago, it barely existed. Google is a company with the potential to really do the unthinkable, do it quickly, and do it in scale.

“At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona […] Google’s SVP of products Sundar Pichai gave more details on the company’s ambitious plans to use drones as wireless cell phone towers to provide Internet access.[…] Quoting people familiar with the plans, the report says Google wants to use unnamed ‘new technology’, to let phones roam between T-Mobile, Sprint, and Wi-Fi hotspots, choosing the best one depending on whether you’re making calls or using data. The idea is to end dependance on a single network.”[2]

If we reflect on the importance of data, particularly to companies like Google, then suddenly the idea of controlling everyone’s access to everything sounds incredibly appealing. Whereas Facebook acquired What’s App for the best part of $20b, simply to have access to conversations that they claimed they wouldn’t even leverage for advertising purposes (let’s see how long that lasts), here we have an opportunity for a company to establish widespread coverage and enable the connection of every single device – at whatever cost they choose.

If we think about initiatives like Google Maps which are predominantly free for consumers, Gmail which dominates the email space, and many of their other successful initiatives, they all provide incredible value to end users, and enable the world to be a more connected place. So imagine extending this to the Internet Of Things. Imagine being able to connect virtually any device to the internet, at virtually no cost.

Perhaps they will build a world leading platform for M2M message exchange, that would enable them to extract value from that service. Perhaps they’ll find a way to achieve real efficiency in coverage with flexible infrastructure and therefore charge very little. Or perhaps they’ll do it simply because they can.

Time will tell, but given the rate at which the Internet Of Things is taking over consumers’ lives and becoming the focal point of businesses that design increasingly intelligent products, it makes sense to envision a world without extortionate M2M 3G rates, or SIGFOX style minimalist message limits. Maybe Google can shake this space up, and make things interesting.

References & additional reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_virtual_network_operator
[
2] http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/google-project-nova-wireless-network-news/

 

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