Upon the news this week that Google will be targeting the U.S. cell service industry as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), one would do well to examine the possibilities for the wireless industry landscape during the coming year.
Google has revealed that it intends to sell mobile phone plans and manage its own cell network as a result of partnerships with Sprint and T-Mobile. The Information reports that the company will buy wholesale access to those carriers’ mobile voice and data networks, and will offer mobile plans as an MVNO, likely challenging the very well-established hierarchy of wireless carriers in the U.S.
Despite the dominance of Verizon and AT&T, and Sprint’s struggle to maintain third place as T-Mobile offers deal upon deal to draw customers away from the top carriers, there is room for competition, particularly from the likes of Google as a globally popular brand in many other aspects of tech.
Others are trying. Take FreedomPop: an MVNO that popped up in 2011, with a business plan that involves giving away monthly amounts of data to users who pay flat fees for its hotspot devices. The company launched internet services over Clearwire’s network in 2012, and it has added 3G and 4G coverage on Sprint’s network as of April 2014. FreedomPop’s unique approach to wireless service — with a line of devices providing access to 500 MB of free wireless internet per month and no contracts — has slowly grown in popularity. And the company continues to roll out low-cost, innovative options for cell and internet users. On January 21, FreedomPop revealed that it will offer unlimited Wi-Fi plans with unlimited talk, text and data for $5 per month. Accessible through almost 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the U.S., the service is certainly less expensive than anything the top carriers have to offer.
But Google might have an advantage over FreedomPop and other MVNOs if only in the fact that its brand is a household name, and it provides some of the fastest internet available in the U.S. in various cities. FreedomPop is a start-up from the ground up, without an established brand like Google’s. Google Fiber has made its way around the country, and will of course associate with any cellular network the company has to offer. While — as an MVNO — Google will be piggybacking off of the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, the company could enjoy significant success in the cell service market, posing a threat to some of the big wig telcos that currently dominate the scene.