No one is entirely sure what Google is up to with its announcement of trial plans for a 1 Gbps fiber-based, open access broadband service. We could speculate on how Google is trying to prove that open access works, or that traditional network operators are keeping customers from reaching their full speed potential, but there are plenty of other folks already debating those issues. It might be more fun to consider what most people believe to be the least likely scenario--that the big Nethead really wants to be a Bellhead.
Here's five reasons this outrageous line of thinking could be true:
1- Bellhead network technology: The broadband network bid caught many people off-guard in a number of ways, and one of those was Google's focus on fiber rather than wireless. But, the choice of fiber could prove that Google is trying to beat the Bellheads at their own game in urban residential and business settings. It's looking for speeds and consistency that wireless still isn't capable of providing.
2- Wireless acquisition rumors: In the weeks since Germany's Deutsche Telekom said it may look to sell T-Mobile USA, suggestions and speculation have been building toward the possibility that Google could buy T-Mobile. It could all be a bunch of blogger blather, but T-Mobile already has been a device partner to Google, and acquiring a major U.S. wireless network would put Google on the same playing field (though a bit closer to the sidelines) as AT&T and Verizon Communications.
3- The transformation challenge might be easier than it looks: An unidentified telecom industry executive reacting to the Google broadband news in The Wall Street Journal suggested that it would be hard for Google to be a network operator because of (I'm paraphrasing here) its inexperience with truck rolls, billing processes and other customer service issues.
Really? If that's all that's keeping Google out of the game, transforming into a network operator shouldn't be all that hard, and maybe Google has figured that out. After installation, it may have a strategy to keep expensive and inconvenient (for the consumer) truck rolls to a minimum by fully exploiting remote management and monitoring techniques. As for billing, what's a bill? These days, it's an e-mail reminder.
4- Google's supposed past mis-steps: Google Voice, the Nexus One phone and Google's early municipal WiFi strategy in partnership with EarthLink have been seen as the company's public mistakes to one degree or another. Delays and transition issues haunted the voice service, customer service problems tripped up the Nexus One just out of the gate, and the WiFi trial balloon fell to earth along with the initial business model shortcomings of the muni-WiFi sector as a whole.
But, Google probably learned important lessons from all three mis-steps about how to properly roll out a telecom service (with Google Voice), how to respond to customer problems (with Nexus One) and how to get a buy-in from potential customers (consumers of WiFi) and customer-partners (municipalities want to provide WiFi). In the first two cases, Google still offers the product that suffered early problems, and in the third case, it can blame failure on EarthLink or market forces.
5- Competitive advantages: In a Google broadband service scenario, a Google-owned fiber could lead into a household where a consumer uses an Internet-connected TV to search via Google for Internet-based videos, some of which they might even find at Google-owned YouTube. No Bellhead can match that.
Meanwhile, telecom stalwarts may suggest Google has no relationship with the average broadband service customer, but as it reminded us in an actually-sorta-sweet Super Bowl TV commercial, Google actually has a pretty strong bond with consumers everywhere.
There are probably more than five reasons to believe that Google's broadband trial plan is nothing more than a regulatory play similar to its one-time plan to buy 700 Mhz licenses. The cost of building and providing a 1 Gbps fiber broadband service would be one giant reason for Google to not want to be in the Bellhead business. Indeed, you need an awful lot of money to build broadband networks. You'd have to be some kind on Internet colossus or something. Oh, wait... --Dan