Speculation has been swirling as to whether Internet search behemoth Google will come to market with its own branded mobile phone. Guesses have run the gamut, ranging from a strategy of making a phone and selling its own service as an MVNO to producing a low-cost handset for emerging markets. Certainly the mobile market is not one to ignore as it represents billions in revenue for a company like Google, but Google has been facing an uphill battle with operators in the U.S. These customer gatekeepers have opted to stay away from Google search services, preferring to make deals with white-label, pure-play mobile search companies to power their offerings. Operators want a cut of the revenue from search services rather than offering them for free with a Google service. Operators in both the U.S. and Europe will try to hold on to their strategy of owning the customer until customers finally demand an open Internet model.
Until then, it seems to me that Google might be better off looking to a WiFi handset, offering a VoIP client and a decent Web browser to make some money on search-based advertising--exactly how it makes money in the wired world. The timing is right too. Municipal mesh networks are proliferating with every major city in the U.S. building one along with even small communities getting into the act too.
And at least one major ISP is looking at the opportunity for selling WiFi VoIP phones over mesh networks. EarthLink announced last week it is beta testing phones on the company's municipal wireless network in Anaheim, CA. EarthLink WiFi phones will allow consumers to make Internet phone calls from a wireless handset to any traditional landline, cell phone or VoIP phone. The handsets will work directly on EarthLink's municipal wireless networks and can also connect via a wireless router attached to the user's wired home broadband network.
VoIP could very well be one of the biggest benefits of a muni-WiFi network. A wireless phone that can be used citywide that connects to free or very low cost VoIP services is quite desirable from a consumer standpoint.
Certainly Google could leverage its muni-WiFi offerings in its hometown of Mountain View, CA and its network in San Francisco that it runs with partner EarthLink. Tack on some location-based Google searching capabilities and the Internet search giant has a pretty compelling offer. -Lynnette