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The Wall Street Journal’s newest rumor has it that Google(s goog) is in talks with Dish Network(s dish) to launch a nationwide 4G network, using the latter’s satellite spectrum. According to the Journal, the talks are in their early stages and the newspaper’s sources don’t even know if they’ll amount to anything concrete. But it’s interesting to once again see Google’s name mentioned in another possible tie-up with a mobile operator.
I still think the idea of Google becoming a carrier is laughable (you can read why here), but it’s looking more and more likely that Google wants to put some skin in the mobile broadband game through strategic investment. In fact it’s already done so in the past, plopping down $500 million to fund Clearwire’s(s clwr) WiMAX ambitions. WiMAX didn’t exactly work out – it sold its Clearwire stake this year – so now Google may be setting its sites on LTE.
Dish is a satellite communications and TV provider with a hankering to become a terrestrial mobile operator. Over the last few years it’s scooped up a bunch of satellite communications licenses that it’s asking the Federal Communications Commission to clear for LTE use. Dish claims that wants to become a legitimate contender in the 4G market and is looking for partners to help it get its LTE network off the ground – or so it claims. Dish is just as likely to flip its spectrum for a quick profit once it gets the FCC to open up its spectrum.
Assuming for the moment that Dish is sincere, however, what would a partnership with Google bring it? Obviously money: Google has deep pockets and building a network 4G network from scratch is an expensive proposition, costing the companies well upwards of $10 billion. Ideally Dish would like to partner with an entrenched mobile carrier, one that already has the core and tower infrastructure in place to host its radio network as well as the back office and customer service operations to actually run a nationwide mobile carrier.
Google has the cash and Dish has the spectrum, but neither Google nor Dish bring expertise and infrastructure, which would put both at disadvantage. They would have to start from square one, replicating what the major wireless operators have spent more than a decade building. If that sounds like a huge disadvantage, that’s because it is.
But then again Google may be looking to start from scratch. Partnering with an established mobile operator, means embracing the traditional carrier business models of expensive mobile data tiers and long-term contracts as well as a mindset still grounded in protecting old-school voice and SMS services and their revenues. There’s a reason why Google invested in Clearwire. It wanted to challenge the traditional way of selling wireless services. It may now see the same opportunity with Dish.
Dish photo courtesy of (CC BY 2.0) Flickr user