Friday, November 30, 2007

Google bidding for spectrum – not entirely a blessing

Google is really trying hard to get its applications and services into mobile phones. But in the bargain it could be encroaching into every part of our Internet lives from its core business in search, to the Android operating system and applications on phones, to now owning spectrum for mobile telephony and data.

Google announced today that it will apply to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) upcoming auction of wireless spectrum in the 700 megahertz (MHz) band.

As part of the nationally mandated transition to digital television, the 700 MHz spectrum auction -- which begins January 24, 2008 -- will free up spectrum airwaves for more efficient wireless Internet service for consumers. Advocacy by public interest groups and Google earlier this year helped ensure that regardless of which bidders win a key portion of the spectrum up for auction (the so-called "C Block"), they will be required to allow their users to download any software application they want on their mobile device, and to use any mobile devices they would like on that wireless network, Google said. The winner must ensure these rights for consumers if the reserve price of $4.6 billion for the C Block is met at auction, it added.

Google’s moves in the last few months have been aimed to get its services into mobile phones, thus opening up a new advertising revenue stream for the company. Mobile operators however want to control what applications users download, because they are also beginning to see special services as large potential revenue streams, including from advertising. If Google wants to get into the phones of these mobile operators, it can only do so through generous revenue sharing deals with the operators.

The search giant has hence been pushing for opening up the networks, to further its business interests. The 700 MHz spectrum auction was an opportunity for Google and other groups to advocate to the FCC that at least this part of the spectrum should be kept open by bid winners.

Google has been at the same time pushing the open source Android platform for mobile devices, which will again support third-party applications, including Google’s. However the big players like Nokia are not backing this initiative. Having seen the control and commoditization of the PC platform by Intel and Microsoft, they don’t want something similar in the mobile phone market.

It is not clear at this point whether Google really plans to win the auction, or just meet the reserve price for the auction. Also not clear is whether Google, if it bids seriously and wins, will get into actual network operation. If it decides to do so, not only other service providers and mobile phone makers, but also users should be worried. Google will be playing in too many inter-related markets from mobile networks to mobile devices to applications such as search, giving it a lot of opportunity to control.

Related articles:

Google wants an equal chance to get into your mobile phone

Google builds its own virtual machine for Android

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