Well, here we go. In my absence, Google announced the launch of Project Fi, their experiment as a mobile virtual network operator. It more or less dovetails with what the rumor mill predicted: only works on the Nexus 6 with a special SIM that allows multi-network operation and does everything (including phone and text) over Wi-Fi first but can then roam into T-Mobile or Sprint networks, whichever is stronger. Unlimited talk and text, service in 120 countries (with a slight fee for placing voice calls abroad), all for a flat $20 and then $10 per GB of data thereafter, prorated and refunded. So if you pay $50 but then only use 2.7 GB of data, you’ll get $3 back. Or if you pay $40 and use 4.2 GB of data, you’ll be charged $62. Simple.
It’s a gauntlet thrown at the feet of AT&T and Verizon, mainly. The old PCS-only carriers don’t generally have the rural buildout to compete outside the city, because they didn’t inherit any of the old 800 Mhz frequencies the original A- and B-band cellular operators had (all of whom effectively were either AT&T or Verizon by 2006). But with both Sprint and T-Mob to draw on, and wi-fi to backfill, Google might just be able to compete effectively – or at least put severe pricing pressure on the Big Two, which have in the last decade managed to pivot from selling tons of minutes and throwing in data as lagniappe to selling nothing but data and throwing in unlimited calls and texts as the sweetener.
Seriously. Depending on where you live, Google has gotten way beyond the service sector only. Time was, Google could be your email, your search, your social networking, your navigation, your media provider, and the OS of your phone, laptop and streaming stick. Now they can be your ISP, your TV provider and your cellular phone company as well. If you like and if the geography supports it, you can basically exist in a 100% Google ecosystem.
And that’s problematic, as I’ve described here and elsewhere. It’s the mirror image of Mountain View as Googleburg: when you’re a company town, it generally works out better for the company than the town, and when Google’s not Google anymore where will that leave you? And it’s not like you can avoid them; Android has a market share bumping around 80% worldwide for smartphones and the majority of my personal email correspondents are on Gmail even if I’m not so it’s not like you can swear off the Beast of Mountain View and avoid being under their sway. And having established that “don’t be evil” is a crock of shit, where does that leave you?
I spoke with someone writing an article about the transformation of some of these company towns in Silly Con Valley, and my line on Google was “right now, it’s kind of like Smaug, sitting there on a huge pile of gold, and here we are on the lake hoping against hope it just doesn’t decide to wake up.” It staggers me that the same people who got sand in their bungholes at the horrifying revelations of Edward Snowden are still blithely indifferent to how much power they hand over to Google, completely voluntarily. Of which more later.