Google considering 700 MHz options

Google is still pondering its plans when it comes to bidding in 700 MHz auction slated for Jan. 16, according to an article in eWeek. You can bet that the company will wait as long as possible before it decides, exhausting all other avenues that might provide the open access circumstance it seeks so it can transfer its dominance in online advertising into the wireless broadband world.

Google wanted the Federal Communications Commission to force bidders of certain 700 MHz bands to offer open applications, open devices, open wholesale services and open network access. It only got part of what it wanted. The FCC stopped short of requiring wholesale access, which would push the whole notion of open access in the first place through competition.

Google had big hopes in 2005 and 2006 that muni-WiFi was going to be the wireless broadband opportunity it was looking for. Pundits had speculated that Google was poised to blanket the U.S. with free WiFi in order to become one of the globe's largest Internet providers and one of the powerful ad sellers. That strategy hasn't panned out as the muni-WiFi market has hit a shakeout. As it turns out, muni-WiFi is difficult--in a technological, fiscal and operational sense. Google's plan to unwire San Francisco doesn't look like it will come to fruition as its partner EarthLink will likely pull out of the deal. And players everywhere are determining that there isn't much of a business case around simply offering WiFi access to the masses.

More recently, Google made a WiMAX deal with Sprint Nextel to develop a co-branded mobile Internet portal that will allows users to access email, search the Web and chat over the wireless broadband WiMAX connection. While Sprint is embracing the search engine company by developing a co-branded mobile Internet portal, Sprint gets the larger share of the revenues--not exactly the ideal situation for Google. Plus, Sprint Chief Financial Officer Paul Saleh said during the company's Technology Summit last week that the company expects a "very small" portion of its WiMAX revenues to come from advertising.

What other avenues does Google have for a wireless open access model? Well, it's keenly interested in the notion of using unlicensed TV white space for a sort of super WiFi service since signals in this analog TV spectrum travel very well and can easily be received indoors. Google is a member of the White Spaces Coalition, which includes Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. The coalition is trying to prove that such signals won't bleed outside their designated channels and interfere with existing broadcasts.

The group submitted a prototype to the FCC in March, saying the devices wouldn't interfere with TV broadcasts. However, FCC engineers recently claimed that the original prototype caused static on existing broadcasts. But the FCC wants to find a way to make services in white space spectrum work, and Microsoft claims it actually has a prototype that doesn't cause interference. Broadcasters are adamantly opposed to the idea because of the potential for interference.

Is it a sure thing? For its part, Google said it's confident the FCC will adopt an order that allows companies to use the white space spectrum. That's certainly a more favorable alternative for a company that would be required to bid billions for spectrum and spend billions more to build out a network in the 700 MHz band--especially if it desires to just build a network solely to offer wholesale access to resellers, as it has indicated in the past.

It's clear that Google has a lot to think about between now and Jan. 16.--Lynnette