What Did Google Really Say?

Especially over the last week or so, one of the big topics of discussion across the mobile ecosystem has been that Google finally confirmed that they DO plan to launch some kind of wireless MVNO. Over the next few days, I’d like to share my perspectives on this news, starting this morning with a quick review of what was actually said and what I think was noteworthy about those statements.

Last week, Sundar Pichai gave a keynote speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In his speech, he talked about Google’s core services, then about Android, but he spent most of his time talking about connectivity – Google Fiber, Project Link, Project Loon, and Project Titan. Then he sat down for a 20 minute interview with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone.

For the first 10 minutes, Stone tossed him softball questions, mostly about Android. Then Stone said “There have been reports in the press that Google is talking to wireless carriers about a Google branded network, also called an MVNO, what can you tell us about those talks?” For the next four minutes, they went back and forth on this topic.

Obviously Pichai was ready for the question and started with a well crafted response. Interestingly, he went back to Android, and then he talked about Google’s Nexus devices before he ever got around to talking about their MVNO plans. In fact, at the end of his Android/Nexus discussion he said “That’s the context in which we are thinking about it.”

I’ll talk more about Android and Nexus in a future post, but I think the key points that he made about these as setting the context for Google’s MVNO plans are:

  • That Android has always been an ecosystem play, working with partners.
  • When they introduced Nexus, they did it in partnership with OEM partners.
  • They are very cautious to not compete with their OEM partners, and part of that, he said, was doing Nexus at a scale large enough to have an impact, but small enough to not be threatening to OEMs.
  • Google always tries to push the boundary of what’s next. He said that all innovations in computing happen at the intersection of hardware and software, and that Google felt they needed to do Nexus so that they could work very closely with both the hardware and software in order to push the innovation.
  • He made the case that “we are at a stage where it’s important to think about hardware, software, and connectivity together” – they want to experiment at that intersection, just as they have with the intersection of just hardware and software.

With that as context, Pichai then provided a little more (but not much) information about their plans, mostly within the context that he had already set:

  • They clearly don’t want to mess up their carrier relationships. He wanted to clearly communicate that their intent is NOT to compete with the carriers, but to experiment in order to “help” them.
  • Google is working with carrier partners for this project. The carrier partners will actually provide the service. (BTW – that could mean a few different things, which I’ll get to in a future post.)
  • They will operate this at large enough scale that people will see whether the experiments work (and hopefully carriers will adopt the ideas), but still at small scale so it won’t be a threat to carriers.

Stone specifically asked if this was about “more innovation and lower prices when it comes to mobile networks” and Pichai’s response was that Google is trying to accomplish something a bit different. He then gave a couple of examples:

  • Making the experience seamless for WiFi and cellular network interoperability.
  • Automatically reconnecting a call when it drops.

Both of these examples seem to imply a traditional smartphone use case, but earlier he had specifically pointed to IoT examples such as a connected watch or Android Auto and said that they want to be able to experiment along those lines.

That’s what Google really said. Over the next few posts, I’ll try to translate that into what might be meaningful from that for the industry.

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