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Google to launch its own mobile network

Barry Collins
3 Mar 2015
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Google plans to merge cell phone and Wi-Fi signals for experimental new mobile network

Google is to launch its own virtual mobile network, in a move that could have huge implications for the telecoms industry. Instead of relying purely on 3G/4G signals, Google plans to merge cell phone and Wi-Fi networks when it launches its experimental service in the US later this year.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google's senior vice president, Sundar Pichai, said the company was looking to break new ground in the mobile market. "The core of Android and everything we do is to take an ecosystem approach and [a network would have] the same attributes," Pichai said, according to a report on TechCrunch. "We have always tried to push the boundary with the innovations in hardware and software. We want to experiment along those lines."

However, the Google executive said the company wasn't planning to take on the mobile giants such as Vodafone or Verizon in the States. "We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale," he said. "We are actually working with carrier partners. Will announce something in the coming months."

Google's plan to bridge cell and Wi-Fi networks isn't unprecedented. Before it announced plans to acquire EE late last year, BT was planning to launch a virtual mobile network for its business customers which would largely rely on the company's nationwide network of Wi-Fi hotspots, falling back to 3G/4G signals when customers moved out of Wi-Fi range. However, BT had trouble managing the handover of calls as users moved from one hotspot to the next, although said it remained confident that it could make the technology work.

It's also not the first time Google has dabbled in the telecoms business. The company runs its own fibre broadband network in the US, offering gigabit (1,000Mbits/sec) connections to homes and businesses, although it's only available in a select few cities. 

Although Google may insist its ambitions are modest when it comes to fibre and mobile networks, the small deployments give Google the experience and technical expertise to expand should it wish to do so at a later date. Google was at one time considering building its own fibre network in the UK, but talks with politicians and potential network partners eventually bore no fruit. 

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