Google fesses up on spectrum strategy

Google finally admitted to the worst-kept secret in wireless when counsel Richard Whitt and Joseph Faber confessed that the web services giant's sole rationale for entering the FCC's recent 700 MHz spectrum auction was to drive up bidding in the coveted "C Block" and guarantee certain open access conditions were met. "Google's top priority heading into the auction was to make sure that bidding on the so-called 'C Block' reached the $4.6 billion reserve price that would trigger the important 'open applications' and 'open handsets' license conditions," write Whitt and Faber on the official Google blog. "We were also prepared to gain the nationwide C Block licenses at a price somewhat higher than the reserve price; in fact, for many days during the early course of the auction, we were the high bidder. But it was clear, then and now, that Verizon Wireless ultimately was motivated to bid higher." (Verizon captured the spectrum for $4.74 billion.)

Given Google's aptitude for bluffing, you might have expected to see some official sign of the company at last week's CTIA Wireless 2008 event in Las Vegas, but it was nowhere in sight. Six months after formally announcing its Android mobile OS in tandem with launching its Open Handset Alliance industry coalition, Google has been strangely quiet on its mobile evolution--with the first Android-based devices slated to hit the market within the next few months, myriad developmental questions remain, with few if any guidelines to suggest just how much latitude developers can expect. Google's wireless head Rich Miner tells CNET that a basic set of Android parameters are in place, spanning from screen resolution to keypad formats--in an effort to minimize fragmentation, Google will also institute a set of basic applications handset makers will be required to install in their first Android products, but as of now, Miner admits, the exact application makeup remains undetermined, and Google retains final cut on all decisions, noting "That's the difference between a standards body and an engineering team."

Fair enough, but the tighter Google holds its cards to its vest, the more likely Android becomes exactly the kind of fragmented mess the company most fears. Google needs to iron out Android's basic requirements and share that blueprint with the development community as soon as possible. Secrets and schemes are just fine within the context of a spectrum auction, but they have no place in open-source development. -Jason