Google Wireless: Could an Alliance with Dish Make It Happen?

It would be awesome to see disruption of the big wireless carriers, and there are some great reasons for Google to lead the way. Just don't hold your breath for it

  • Share
  • Read Later
REUTERS/Clay Mclachlan

Google might be considering ways to become a wireless carrier, if a report from the Wall Street Journal is accurate.

According to “people familiar with the discussions,” Google has talked with Dish Network about the possibility of creating a new wireless service. Although Dish is known mainly for its satellite-TV offerings, the company is sitting on some unused wireless spectrum and has openly talked about building a new network with a partner. Google is one of the companies that has shown interest.

The negotiations weren’t in advanced stages, the Journal reports, so this could turn out to be nothing. Still, the idea of a wireless service from Google is interesting to think about, and it would make sense both to the company and to users.

Wireless carriers need disruption. They slather their phones — particularly Android devices — in bloatware that you can’t remove. They invent new fees without good reason. They find ways to charge you extra to use the data you already pay for. They stick their logos in unsightly places, presumably just to remind you who’s boss.

There’s no guarantee a Google wireless service would provide the opposite experience, but at least Google has different motivations. Instead of simply trying to juice average revenue per user, Google’s priority is to get people hooked on Android so that they’re always buying apps and media and relying heavily on Google search.

Android is already everywhere, so why isn’t the status quo good enough? Because once Google releases a version of Android, the company has limited ability to control it. That’s why you get bloatware and why the software updates that Google delivers never seem to come fast enough, if at all, to your AT&T or Verizon phone. It’s also why Google Wallet, a service that lets you pay with your phone at retailers, isn’t available on most Android phones; the wireless carriers have declined to install it as they build their own competing services.

Google’s Nexus phones, built in close conjunction with a hardware partner and sold directly by Google, are meant to restore some of that control. If you buy an unlocked Nexus 4, Google delivers the software updates. There’s no unnecessary software, and Google Wallet is already installed.

But right now, coverage is the missing ingredient. Nexus phones don’t work out of the box because there’s no wireless service included. You must also purchase a SIM card and a service plan from a carrier, such as AT&T or T-Mobile, and pop it into the new phone. A Nexus phone with wireless service included would make for a more seamless experience. It would also allow Google to subsidize the cost of the phone or the cost of service itself.

Don’t get too excited, though. Dish still doesn’t have regulatory approval to build a wireless network with its spectrum, and it doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure, either. If Google and Dish formed an alliance, they’d either have to build their network from scratch — a massive investment, no doubt — or partner with another company that had its own infrastructure already. Meanwhile, Dish could have its own onerous demands, and if Google is seen plotting against the established wireless carriers, they could respond by throwing less support behind Android. The whole thing could get very messy — assuming it even happens in the first place.

I would love to see disruption of the big wireless carriers, and there are some great reasons for Google to lead the way. Just don’t hold your breath for it.