Will Google Wireless carry the day?

Looks like the Goo-goo-googlers are going to bid for a swath of the 700 MHz spectrum after all.

Looks like the Goo-goo-googlers are going to bid for a swath of the 700 MHz spectrum after all.

Though the revenue engorged G-men could probably pay the US$4.6 billion minimum bid out of petty cash, some analysts say they may need a wireless partner to pull off instant nationwide access.

Then again, this is Google we're talking about. Even their failures are better than most companies' successes. And the airwaves used to carry Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres reruns offer a kind of reach cell networks can't touch.

As Good Morning Silicon Valley's John Murrell sagely notes, if there's any industry that could use disrupting, it's the wireless biz. Thinking on this I am once again reminded how much the Big 4 wireless companies resemble the Big 4 music companies in the pre-Napster era. Snuffing out or swallowing up the competition, jacking up prices while letting product quality slide, and generally jerking around their customers.

For example: locking you into onerous contracts with steep early exit penalties. Cutting you off for exceeding the limits of their "unlimited" access plans. Charging you $2.49 for a 20-second snippet of a song that costs 99 cents on iTunes. And so on.

The problem with this approach is that when you screw your customers often enough they tend to seek alternatives, legal or otherwise. Usually the upstarts can be easily squashed. But Google doesn't look very squishy to me. Unlike the telecoms, they're not sitting atop a mature industry desperately seeking new revenue streams. They're the Big Kahuna riding the wave of an industry whose crest isn't even in sight.

I think the wireless giants are in for a good spanking, and I hope it hurts. Google wireless may not turn out to be the Napster of the mobile industry, but I'd settle for the equivalent of iTunes -- a high-quality reasonably priced alternative that works.

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Robert X. Cringely

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