Google spreads network wings to SEA, Africa

03 Jun 2013

As featured on TM Forum's the Insider blog

When Google started rolling out its own fiber network to homes in Kansas City the Twitter and blog spheres were alight with warnings that it had ambitions of becoming a network operator in its own right. After all, why would it spend all that money when it could continue to piggy-back on the existing operator networks freely available to it?

Back in March, 2010 Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt, stressed that Google was purely experimenting with fiber in an effort to see what was required to bring networks up to 1Gbps, which could pave the way for more exciting applications and convince telcos to upgrade their networks.

As The Insider wrote at the time, “analysts weren't buying that and Google's push into infrastructure would inevitably add to fears surrounding its overwhelming corporate power.” He also asked, “is it time for telcos and ISPs to panic? Probably not, but they should not underestimate the financial and purchasing power Google wields with its established and highly profitable cash-generating search core. Nothing, it seems, is impossible for Google.”

Well, the rollout to the ‘under-served’ internet community of Kansas City was successful in more ways than one. Google proved it could not only achieve 1Gbps service to the home, but do it much cheaper than anyone else. It was also able to offer its own video content bundled with connectivity and looked, for all intents and purposes, to be acting just like a communications service provider.

Then came word that it would roll fiber out to the netizens of Provo in Utah and Austin, Texas. If you thought that was hardly taking over the world you’d be right but the latest news from the mighty search purveyor is a little harder to swallow.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google “is working to build and help run wireless networks in emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, connecting a billion or more new people to the internet.” How noble is that? If the story is correct, Google will not only be connecting them to the internet it will also be connecting them to itself.

Make no mistake, this is a coup on a grand scale, and a very clever one on Google’s part. All those masses of new internet users will be desperate to unleash the internet wonders to behold and will very quickly learn that Google is the quickest way to find anything their hearts desire. Better still, every time they click there is potential for Google to earn some money, not from them but from advertisers keen, or otherwise, to attract them.

Here is a model that telcos can, for the most part, still only dream about. People using their networks and then getting somebody else (with far greater resources) to pay for them. Google has the ability to make so much money from its advertisers it could even offer the wireless service free. Are alarm bells ringing again? If not they probably should be!

The WSJ report says that Google “is deep into a multipronged effort to build and help run wireless networks in emerging markets as part of a plan to connect a billion or more new people to the internet.” It also stated that Google plans to team up with local telecommunications firms and equipment providers in the emerging markets to develop the networks, as well as create business models to support them. How magnanimous is that?

Oh, and they are already talking to regulators in some countries to explain just how they might change current rules to allow such networks to be built en masse. Combine this with its previous dabbling in high-altitude transmission platforms, satellite technology and all those Android-powered handsets and we have the making of one almighty ecosystem controlled by - guess who?

The WSJ summed all of this up with what could become one of the century’s greatest understatements – “The activities underscore how the Web search giant is increasingly aiming to have control over every aspect of a person’s connection to the Web across the globe.” No kidding!

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