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Google’s long rumored move to becoming a wireless carrier took one step closer to reality on Monday. At Mobile World Congress, Google’s second-in-command executive Sundar Pichai confirmed that Google is working on a becoming a mobile virtual network operator, and revealed that the Google will announce its MVNO in the coming months.
Although Pichai’s remarks on the subject were brief, he laid out Google’s aims and set expectations for the service. It’s not going to be taking on AT&T or Verizon head-on. Instead, it’s a “small scale” experiment of sorts, meant to push carriers to implement new Android features that Google’s been working on. One example Pichai provided is that when a call drops on one end, the Google MVNO will be able to automatically bring the call back.
In that way, Google’s MVNO seems like a sibling to its line of Nexus phones: It’s not meant to be a commercial force revenue- and sales-wise, but it’s intended to show Google’s long roster of partners what’s possible when they trust Google’s technology and leadership.
“It’s a very small-scale compared to the rest of the OEM industry, but it pushes the needle. I think we’re at the state where we need to think of hardware, software, and connectivity together,” Pichar said, according to the Verge. “We don’t intend to be a carrier at scale, and we’re working with existing partners.”
The fact that Google’s MVNO isn’t commercially-focused shouldn’t be a surprise. When the recent rumors of Google’s carrier ambitions started flying last month, my colleague Kevin Fitchard wrote that Google has no intention to get into the low margin business of selling minutes and data:
I could definitely see Google trying to temporarily shake things up in the industry, as the Information suggests, with a new approach to the technology and business model of wireless (it’s doing much the same thing with Google Fiber). But in the long-term, selling minutes and gigabytes, climbing towers and fielding phone calls from irate customers is not the kind of utility business Google wants to be in.
Now that it’s been confirmed that Google is becoming a wireless carrier, albeit at a small scale, speculation will center on which carrier it’s buying capacity from (likely T-Mobile and Sprint), where the service will be available (California? Or areas with Google Fiber?), and whether it will work with non-Android devices.
1:00pm ET: This story has been updated to clarify Pichai’s remarks. Google will be announcing its MVNO in the coming months, not launching it, according to Google PR, which implies availability may be some way off.