What We Know And Don’t Know About Google’s Phone Plans

HTC Android Evolution

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) confirmed this morning that at its all-hands meeting last night it gave all of its employees a cellphone, which it is calling a mobile lab “to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities.” Google did not provide any specifics, but trust us, the rumormongers are hard at work with just about everyone declaring that this is proof that Google is indeed building a phone of its own.

Mario Queiroz, VP of Product Management wrote in a blog post this morning that it was built by a hardware partner and runs Android software, and explained “At Google, we are constantly experimenting with new products and technologies, and often ask employees to test these products for quick feedback and suggestions for improvements in a process we call dogfooding (from “eating your own dogfood”). Well this holiday season, we are taking dogfooding to a new level.”

The WSJ is reporting that the so-called Google phone will be sold directly to consumers as soon as next year, and that it will be called “the Nexus One.” It will be manufactured by HTC and will run Android, according to unnamed sources. TechCrunch says its sources are also saying that the phone has been built by HTC, that it will be called the Google Phone and will launch in early January. It will be an unlocked GSM phone, meaning it could potentially run on either AT&T (NYSE: T) or T-Mobile’s network, and it will be running Android 2.1. TechCrunch also dug up some juicy tidbits on Twitter, most of which called the device the Google Phone. One said: “A friend from Google showed me the new Android 2.1 phone from HTC coming out in Jan. A sexy beast. Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids.”

For some time, rumors have been circulating that Google may release a phone of its own. While it would still rely on an equipment manufacturer to build it, Google would be responsible for everything else from software to promotion. The big question that remains is what network would it run on. So far in the U.S., consumers have not become accustomed to buying unlocked phones, and choosing a network on their own. I theorized in November that Google may take advantage of its investment in Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR), which is building a 4G high-speed wireless broadband network from the ground up. To be sure, Clearwire has rolled out a test network in the Bay Area that covers Google’s campus, so that engineers there, and elsewhere, can build applications for it. The phone Google gave to its employees would be very interesting if it had a WiMax chip in it. So far, Clearwire hasn’t released any phones, and there’s no point until the network is more pervasive. They’ve said before that a phone won’t come until mid-2010. Remember everyone, Google gave out phones to employees last year, too — to the disgust of many who were used to getting a big check.

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