What Google phone does and doesn't mean for wireless industry

Google apparently isn't content to have its Android mobile operating system merely dominate the season.

Google apparently isn't content to have its Android mobile operating system merely dominate the season.

When Google released its own smartphone to employees to play with this weekend, it served notice that it plans to push the Android brand aggressively throughout the winter. And while the Motorola Droid garnered its fair share of hype this fall as the first-ever Android-based phone available on the Verizon network, Google's own phone -- currently known as the "Nexus One" -- significantly ups the game.

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For one thing, rumor has it that the Nexus One will not have an exclusivity deal with any carrier. In other words, the Nexus One will be available for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile or any other wireless carrier that you prefer. If this is true, then it fits in well with Google's original vision of creating an open source mobile platform that would "free" cell phones by letting them run on any carrier and letting them run any application.

But while this sounds good on paper, the reality of a carrier-agnostic phone may not be quite so simple. As PC Magazine's Sascha Segan points out, the wireless industry in the United States uses "two incompatible radio standards on three different spectrum brands." So while it would be possible for Google to design a phone that can run on GSM-based networks such as T-Mobile and AT&T's, it would have significantly more difficulty extending operability to CDMA-based networks such as Verizon and Sprint's, where the carriers can block any device that they don't want latching onto their service. This means that even if Google doesn't sign any exclusivity agreements for its new device, it will still have to negotiate with carriers to get it to run on every major U.S. network.

This important caveat aside, though, the Nexus One looks initially like it could make a sizeable impact on the smartphone market if it can get enough carriers to run with it. The initial specs that have been leaked have been impressive, as the phone will utilize Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor that runs at 1GHz and that is going to be used by Sony Ericsson's first Android-based phone due out next year. And because Google's brand is so strong, releasing a phone under its own name could give the device the star power that it needs to compete with the Apple iPhone.

And as TechCrunch blogger Erick Schonfeld notes, this phone "will be Google's pure vision of what a phone should be."

Google is hoping that this phone sets a new standard for Android operating system-based phones that will lessen the problem of fragmentation of the operating system. As some application developers have noted, developing apps for Android is generally more difficult than developing them for the iPhone because Android devices come in all shapes and sizes while the iPhone has one standard screen size.

Of course, as with all new smartphones we won't know how to judge the Nexus One until we get our hands on it and start to use it. And for that, we'll have to wait until at least January.

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Brad Reed

Network World
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