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Google's Wireless Ambitions Could Put the Fear of Death in Verizon, AT&T — And Bag You Better Prices

Google claims it doesn't want to compete with the big four cell service providers, but rather introduce new innovations to the market.
Google Phone

For years, rumors have circulated that Google could one day become a wireless carrier. Today, those rumors have finally come to fruition. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google's Senior Vice President, Sundar Pichai, said the search-engine giant would launch its own mobile service by the end of 2015.

And while Google isn't describing its new venture as the ultra-cheap cell phone service that our budgets have dreamed of, Google's wireless network plans could still have a profound effect on our wallets.

Google's Service Will Be Similar to Boost, Cricket, and Straight Talk

Pichai made it clear that Google has no intentions of competing — in the technical sense at least — against the four big providers, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Instead, Google is looking to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, a wireless provider that doesn't own its infrastructure, but instead leases it from an existing wireless carrier. Google will then set its own retail prices independently.

Why would a wireless carrier like Verizon or AT&T agree to such an arrangement? In a nutshell, they have no choice. Regulators came up with this scenario to ensure robust competition for consumers. That has led to the formation of companies like Boost, Cricket Wireless, and Straight Talk. According to the Wall Street Journal's sources, T-Mobile and Sprint will provide the backbone for Google's still unnamed MVNO.

Google Wants to Change the Way We Make Phone Calls

Google isn't ready to talk prices, but instead says its aim is to demonstrate technical innovations that existing carriers should adopt. For instance, Google wants to make calls seamlessly transition from cellular to WiFi networks in areas where cellular coverage isn't particularly strong. (This is something T-Mobile is currently working on too.)

Such an accomplishment could completely eliminate dropped calls and expand coverage dramatically, something all carriers (and consumers) could benefit from. However, many consumers might not be concerned with dropped calls, especially if they live in a major city with good signal strength. Fortunately, even if Google doesn't announce cutthroat prices, the mere fact that Google is entering a highly-competitive market could have huge effects on the industry.

This Could Scare Other Carriers Into Offering Better Deals

While we can't be certain what effect Google's move into cell service will have on the industry, there is a precedent. In 2011, Google announced Google Fiber, the company's Internet and TV service which promises Internet speeds of 5Mbps to a blistering-fast 1Gbps. When Google started rolling out its Fiber service, traditional ISPs scrambled to compete offering faster speeds at much lower prices. The Google Fiber effect was a boon for customers who otherwise had little-to-no alternatives.

It's very likely we'll see a similar scenario play out when Google launches its mobile service later this year. Competition is so tight, that the slightest change in the market could result in price cuts or higher data allowances, something we've already seen happen this year with Verizon. Moreover, Google has been cautious with its words. Its given itself enough wiggle room to fully launch its own network, should it feel the need to do so in the coming years.

Google is expected to make a more detailed announcement regarding its new service in the coming months, possibly at Google I/O in May.

Readers, what do you think of this news? Would you ever give Google a chance as a cell service provider, if it was cheaper? Have any of you see the "Google Fiber effect" in your hometown via less expensive Internet service? Sound off in the comments below!

Senior Writer Emeritus

With over a decade of experience covering technology, Louis Ramirez has written for CNET, Laptop, Gizmodo, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @louisramirez.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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Google makes some pretty impressive products and offers them for free..... Verizon has a great network, but rips you off with their pricing.... Hopefully, this move by Google will force other carriers to adjust their rates.....
i use metro pcs and save50% on my phone bills compared to the large carriers...djp
I've been with Republic Wireless for 18 months or so and I'd give it a score of about B+. I'm very satisfied and would recommend it to anybody who wants to save a lot of money, especially on the $10 talk and text plan. Republic doesn't have live customer support -- you submit a ticket and wait for a response -- so for some people it's not ideal. But I've never had a problem, nor have I ever needed customer support.
I hope Google can get it right.

There are plenty of companies who have tried to sell cheap cell service by making everything run over a data connection (i.e. VOIP).

But the implementation has left a LOT to be desired - I've tried textnow, freedompop, & republic wireless.

None as of yet can deliver an acceptable voice call experience (they are fine for text & data).

Also note they also require phones with custom software, so you usually can't bring your own device.
just me
I switched over to Republic about 3 months ago from Verizon and I can't believe why I didn't do it sooner! Going from $60/mo cell/txt (no data) to the same with free data over wifi for $11 is such a no-brainer!

Why waste money for something you don't need? We're hopping from wifi to wifi 99% of the time anyway - why pay for data at this point? I like having no data while on the road or walking on the street - too many zombies looking down at their phones already! LOOK UP PEOPLE! THERE'S A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE!
I've been using T-mobile prepaid for years now. I'm down to about $30 to $40 per YEAR, since I don't use a lot of cell minutes. Most of my calls to phones, and all of my long talks, are done with Gmail Chat on my computer (or Hangouts Dialer on my Android phone) for FREE over Wifi.
Looking forward to it's launch. Can't possibly make things worse than they are. Time for a shake up in the wireless business, and in a big way.
Can't wait. Then they need to do the same for internet access. I'm sick of the big companies like Comcast and Century Link!
Switching to Republic Wireless and their $10 plan was the best cell phone decision I ever made. Guess I'm lucky enough to have a good router and okay Sprint service. It's worked great for me for over a year. I can't wait to see what Google has in store.
it would be nice to see someone like Google get into this. It will probably take a company like google with a lot of resources to make it work. There are others out there that have been trying. I've been with Republic Wireless for a couple of years and so far it has been poor. They use to advertise they were in Beta and never should have stopped that claim. I have had to fight a constant struggle to get connected to a phone call, stay connected to a call and the only reason I stay with them is because of the initial price of the phone. I wish I had stayed with Tracfone.
I think it will be some time before Republic Wireless gets it right. If you can sit at home beside your router which you have tweaked out to the max, or you can sit beside a Sprint cell tower, (the carrier RW uses) you might have reasonable service. Otherwise it is a REAL Crap shoot.
Come on Google, I can't wait for someone to get this right.
Monte Chivez
Google will make hybrid calling a success.

Republic Wireless?? Argghhh! What a disaster company! Their lack of sufficient engineering know-how and their complete and utter disregard for customer service has made this company and their shoddy service unpopular. They only have about 200k customers or so, and that's after 4 years of being in business. They have almost daily complaints on their forums and social media that the service is rife with problems. A tech review on Yahoo showed a HUGE list of problems this company simply can't fix. Once Google makes the scene, especially with the option to BYOD, Republic will just fade away.
Republic Wireless has been doing this for over two years, now. Their parent company, Bandwidth.com, provides the VoIP functionality to Google Voice. But, with their vast resources, and the fact that they've been collecting open wi-fi data for years, no doubt they will make a huge splash in the wi-fi/cell hybrid phone arena. But, it will also make Google exponentially more intrusive into your life.
Anything is better than post paid contracts. I just go off mine and switching to prepaid. We'll see how Google plays it when it happens.
Sounds a lot like Republic Wireless.