Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sprint enlists Google to raise stakes in US WiMAX gamble

It's actually a pretty brilliant strategy. Google's goal is to be on as many handsets as possible, first and foremost. Their first efforts in mobile were working with handset vendors, and now they are looking to engage with service providers.

Sprint enlists Google to raise stakes in US WiMAX gamble
30/07/2007 - by Andrew Beutmueller, Telecom TV

Hot on the heels of the US wireless carrier Sprint’s announcement last week that it is effectively taking over the US WiMAX market along with partner Clearwire, it seems that Google too is elbowing its way forward to take a seat next to Sprint at the mobile cellular poker championship.

This time we actually learn something substantive about Google’s mobile telephony aspirations that have become increasingly apparent since the search-engine behemoth began its very public and very aggressive lobbying of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to buy up and “open” the mobile wireless spectrum that will shortly come up for auction.

According to a joint Sprint/Google statement, WiMAX mobile Internet customers will, if all goes as planned, be able to search the Internet, and conduct “interactive communications” using Mobile Web 2.0 “social networking tools” though a new mobile portal supported by the collaboration between the two companies.

Sprint customers will likewise be able to use Google’s new Internet Apps suite including Gmail, Google Calendar, various multimedia services as well as GoogleTalk, the Cookie Monster's non-PSTN dialing pseudo-VoIP service.

Asked why Sprint would allow a fox like Google into the voice revenue henhouse albeit via a back door with "VoIP entrance" painted on it, a Sprint spokesperson, John Polivka, replied that above all “this is a revenue sharing deal in terms of advertising revenue … [and] what we’re calling an ‘open Internet opportunity’ whereby WiMAX customers will subscribe to the VoIP portal for free and log on to and avail [themselves] of the applications that they want, which include the Google suite of applications.”

Google spokesperson Erin Fors also pointed out that GoogleTalk “is not a voice alternative for PDAs. She said, "You cannot use the voice feature within Google Talk to call other Google Talk users from a PDA. You can only use Google Talk to call other Google Talk users through a desktop/laptop, and both users need to be on Google Talk and on a desktop or laptop.”

Sprint has a few aces up its sleeve too, including an apparent army of open standard API partners in the Internet developer community who are busy creating various “browsable” products (and hence revenue streams) “customised for devices and facilitating the delivery of personalised and interactive services to consumer, business, public safety and government customers.”

According to Sprint, these APIs will take its WiMAX service past the PDA and into a whole range of so-called “embedded devices, including connection cards, stand-alone modems, laptop computers and consumer electronic devices such as personal media players, mobile Internet devices, gaming devices and phones.”

Sprint proposes, with Google’s help, to “spur new mobility and location-assisted services as Sprint untethers Internet access for consumers, businesses and government customers.”

Barry West, president of 4G Mobile Broadband at Sprint says, “Google and Sprint will optimise the Internet experience for the digital lifestyle.

This collaboration brings what will be the best mobile Internet network together with the leading Internet search company.”

No argument there from analysts, indeed, Michael Wolf of ABI Research says, “it's actually a pretty brilliant strategy. Google's goal is to be on as many handsets as possible, first and foremost. Their first efforts in mobile were working with handset vendors, and now they are looking to engage with service providers.”

Perhaps even more importantly, the partnership also puts Google’s new Internet desktop apps in the hands of mobile users, which for years has been the primary domain of Microsoft.

Ultimately the mobile device universe will be larger - from an installed base perspective - than that of PC's, as they want to power or at least be a part all of these new services whether they be location based, advertising, entertainment or just search.

Michael Wolf of ABI Research adds, “They make very sticky applications, they aren't focused so much on the operating system - the Microsoft approach - but simply offer value added apps that the service provider wants and that Google can then exploit to tie the customer into their ad-sense advertising engine."

Sprint plans WiMAX test services in the Chicago, Baltimore and Washington DC areas by the end of the year. later, sometime between mid to year-end 2008, the carrier will launch its business WiMAX service that will cover 100 million users by the end of next year – in conjunction with the planned partnership with Clearwire.

Ultimately, as Clearwire and Sprint decalred in last week's joint announcement, the two companies will create a mobile WiMAX network that "will blanket the entire United States” and ostensibly deliver broadband mobile phone service to “an estimated 300 million people.”

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