By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated November 19, 2007.
Google is getting ready to bid alone on wireless spectrum being auctioned in January, according to news reports that come on the heels of the search giant's recent launch of an open-source platform for mobile phones.
Reuters reported that Google is preparing to bid by itself at the FCC's 700-MHz spectrum auction, although no final decision has been made. The news service cited company sources, who also said that executives had met with FCC officials, including Chair Kevin Martin, to discuss the bidding.
The cited sources indicated that Google has talked with several possible partners, including carriers. The key issue for Google, according to the sources, is creating more openness in the wireless networks.
'Buy, Create, or Partner'
A partner is essential if Google is going to use the bandwidth, noted Bill Ho, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis. "It is not a telecommunications service company," he noted, and so will either have to "buy, create, or partner with a company."
Ho said he didn't "have a good sense yet" whether Google will actually bid by itself, but he said that the 700-MHz spectrum is "the chance of a lifetime." He pointed out that Google has become the default champion for open access, and has positioned itself as a nontraditional telecom player.
During the summer, Google announced that it would participate in the bidding, although it said its participation would depend on the FCC providing "a framework requiring greater competition and consumer choice." The federal agency has not approved all of the open-access provisions that Google and others had sought, such as a provision requiring the winning licensee to sell access to the bandwidth on a wholesale basis to resellers.
However, the FCC did vote in July to approve a Google-backed plan requiring that any compatible mobile device or any nonmalicious software be able to use a portion of the bandwidth to be auctioned.
Jumpstarting the Mobile Web
That nontraditional positioning as an open-access champion was further bolstered earlier this month when the Google-led Open Handset Alliance announced Android, a software stack for mobile devices. Android includes a Linux-based operating system, middleware, and some initial applications, such as a browser.
Such a platform, coupled with a fertile ecosystem of small developers, would be especially valuable to Google if the company owned wireless spectrum. Industry observers have noted that it's in the company's interests to jumpstart the mobile Web, which is used regularly only by a small portion of the more than three billion mobile device owners around the world.
The January auction of the 700-MHz spectrum could result in a big boost to the mobile Web, as those frequencies penetrate walls and various obstacles more effectively than other frequencies.