Google and the wages of coopetition

"Coopetition," that funny word that seemed to explode into popular usage during the last 15 years or so, may be the first word that comes to mind as the traditional telecom industry hears that Google might be developing its own Google-branded mobile device that could hit the market next year.

According to TechCrunch, such a device is in the works, though the news seems to contradict everything Google has said so far about the role it will play in the mobile device arena (that it would not make mobile devices). In any case, if it does come to market, regardless of whether it's a traditional mobile phone or a data-driven VoIP device, service providers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are likely to have two reactions: 1) They will, perhaps silently, curse Google's very existence yet again, wondering why (at least in the case of Verizon and T-Mobile) they have ever entertained having Google as a partner, and 2) They will fall all over themselves trying to win the rights to be Google's network partner for the phone.

Expect to hear the word "coopetition" a lot. For many people who have used it to describe their movements in telecom over the years, it has been used to portray the idea that a new level of strategic understanding had been reached. But, it's a little bit of a cop-out, too--the word you fall back on to describe actions that you can't comprehend, but feel you have to take.

The Google phone, if it happens, might seem purely a mobile matter. However, it actually would be the latest of several ways in which Google has simultaneously moved closer to the center of the telecom industry (via Google Voice), while also trying to influence matters by painting itself as an outsider (via its support for Net neutrality and its influence on the 700 Mhz auctions), while additionally putting its own applications into a context that makes traditional telecom types eager to support them (Android, which is not merely a mobile operating system, mind you).

That sounds contradictory, too, but what it sounds like even more is that Google is working every angle in order to dominate the communications marketplace, and that traditional service providers are assisting its rise even as Google puts them in their place. Do traditional telecom companies have a choice? It doesn't seem like they do. I guess they will go on calling it coopetition until Google really is at the center of the industry, and they are standing by waiting for the next whim of telecom's new top dog to send them scurrying. Read the TechCrunch report here.