Google is reportedly considering running its own wireless network. Sources tell The Information that company executives have been discussing a plan to offer wireless service in areas where it’s already installed Google Fiber high-speed internet. Details are vague, but there are hints that it’s interested in becoming a mobile virtual network operator or MVNO, buying access to a larger network at wholesale rates and reselling it to customers. Sources say that Google spoke to Verizon about the possibility in early 2014, and that it talked to Sprint about a similar possibility in early 2013, before the company was officially acquired by Softbank.
Currently, Fiber networks have been built in Kansas City, Missouri and Provo, Utah; a network is planned in Austin, Texas in the near future. Google also hopes to expand into Atlanta, Georgia; Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; and six other metro areas further down the line. Fiber has already put pressure on other broadband carriers: in the wake of Google’s Austin announcement, AT&T quickly began installing its own high-speed fiber network, which it launched in late 2013. A move into wireless would take aim at the Verizon and AT&T duopoly and would almost certainly further complicate Google’s relationship with carriers, turning it from a producer of phones like the Moto X to a direct competitor. Google already competes indirectly with phone companies through video and voice services, which it’s been operating in some capacity for several years.
The Information speculates that Google’s wireless network could depend partly on Wi-Fi access points built on the Fiber network, relying on carriers only when service is unavailable or insufficient. AT&T already uses this strategy, easing congestion by transferring users to Wi-Fi hotspots, and Google reached a partnership with Starbucks last year to provide internet access through 7,000 hotspots. In February, the company was said to be planning an app that would let users skip the login process and automatically connect to its networks, bringing a carrier-like seamless transfer closer. It’s also partnered with other broadband providers in lobbying for more spectrum on which to build public Wi-Fi networks. Even if Google is poised to move into wireless broadband, its wired Fiber network is still tiny compared to major broadband providers, and a wireless network would only highlight that fact. But the company’s penchant for ambitious experiments still makes it a definite possibility.