Recently, several outlets reported that Google is planning on launching a wireless carrier service and will start signing up customers this year. Most people don’t like their carrier because of a combination of poor network quality and high bills. This is especially true for Verizon and AT&T customers, who tend to have the highest bills on average. Google might be about to change all that.
Google Wireless is going to be a reseller for both Sprint and T-Mobile, much as companies like Straight Talk and MetroPCS. One thing different about Google’s approach is that they are reportedly offering phones which dynamically switch between networks, which mean that you’ll get the coverage of both Sprint and T-Mobile combined, at the same time. Plus, you’ll likely be able to make calls and texts via WiFi.
Many Android users are still running old versions due to the lengthy process of getting carriers to approve an update for every device type on the market. Owning their own service means Google could send updates to devices they sell on it much faster. I think Google will work with a partner to offer high-end hardware that gets updated rapidly on the service, so we can finally stop waiting months and years to get updates. I think a lot of the point of this service is really just cutting out the middleman for Google-controlled hardware. Nexus phones typically get little promotion from carriers, in-store or otherwise, and selling directly to customers over the web hasn’t led to many adopters beyond enthusiasts. Running their own carrier may mean some beneficial integrations, but I suspect Google is using low prices plus a network quality play as a hook to seed a pure Android experience. A better Android experience means a better gateway for Google services. It’s adding up to be a huge play to directly sell a pure Android experience and service to customers. And they’re doing it all on price and data terms that sound incredibly attractive.
Google’s search engine benefits when you use more data, not less, so its unlikely they’ll adopt current carrier practices here like throttling or overpriced data. I believe Google will offer 2GB data, voice, and text for around $20 per month. They’re not going to go unlimited data, mostly because T-Mo/Sprint already market that aggressively and are probably afraid of Google looking like a cheaper alternative. They’ve been competing on price, and are now fighting it out in data. Any Google plans here have to be viewed through the lens of what won’t kill their business, becuase that’s how they’re thinking when approving them to run on their networks.
Google is most likely seeking the same high end customers as Verizon and AT&T who want good network quality, which is why it’s taking advantage of both Sprint and T-Mobile networks. When signing a 2-year contract from these carriers, the phones can range from free to $200. Carriers don’t sign reseller agreements if it means they’ll lose their core customers, so Google will need some way to avoid taking the low end of the market that Sprint and T-Mobile currently serve. My guess is they’ll do that by only selling Android devices from $250-$300. This helps them price out the lower end of the market, while their plan appeals to those on the higher end who, despite their bigger pocket books, are not satisfied with the current setup. Verizon does better than AT&T here, who has a pretty abysmal equivalence to T-Mobile, but both are leaving a good group of customers unsatisfied who might be a good seed market for Google Wireless.
I think when Google Wireless does roll out they’re going to try to market this to the early-adopter crowd but not necessarily one that’s “geeky.” Android for a long time had an image of being the OS for nerds in the beginning, and its grown out of that for awhile now. I’d guess Google is more interested in marketing its phones to users who may have been turned off in the past or are now in the Apple camp, and bring them back into the fold by promising a different experience than they had in the past. That would be an interesting outcome, but I suspect more likely than that is that there will be a ton of interest from existing Android users. The vast majority of us are stuck with an experience marred by pre-installed carrier apps, a glacial update pace, or a combination of the above. Android 5.0 is already Android 5.2 and I still don’t have either on my Moto X (1st gen). They haven’t announced much about Google Wireless and I’m already ready to ditch Verizon and sign up, early termination fee be damned.