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James Hong

Thursday, January 31, 2008

G-Bell has a nice ring to it

what i am about to say is probably obvious to everyone but me, but this morning something occured to me. I might be completely wrong, but:

I was reading the news about google's spectrum bid, and started thinking about it. Many people I have talked to have said "sure they know how to run a million computers, but does google know how to run a phone company?"

Well, it's not clear to me that google sees the 2 as being that different, and I think they would be mostly right. It's not clear to me that if google won, they would start putting up a phone network. They might instead start by just putting up a data-only network, and then start fulfilling phone services using VOIP a bit later.

The spectrum would allow them to set up full nationwide data coverage in the 700 Mhz band. ok, so lets say they do that and now the US has free wifi (protocol TBD).

ok, then you start working with handset manufacturers to start putting out phones that work in the A/B bands (the current cell phone infrastructure)AND the C Band. Now you have a phone that works with your existing carrier, but when you want to access the web from it, it switches to their C band, and you save money. Free, fast web access that you don't have to pay for. seems like a slam dunk in terms of getting users.

ok, now add VOIP, and you can start making outgoing calls over their C band and drop your normal carrier if you want.

But it's still a pain to manually tell your phone to call over some VOIP network versus over the normal phone network, right? what you want is to hit the "dial steve" button just as you normally do today, and have it just work. well, in order to achieve that, it sure would be useful if Google helped create intelligent contact management software for your phone such that when you call someone and you happened to have Google connectivity, the call got routed over their network automatically. If you don't have google connectivity, then it might just default to using your normal phone carrier for that call. But how would Google get this capability into people's phones if they don't manufacture phones themselves? Answer: Android.

For receiving calls, all they need to do is give you a new phone number that can connect to you on the normal phone system AND over VOIP. So basically, the idea is.. you have 1 normal phone number, and that number can reach you whether by forwarding to your usual phone number, or by VOIP directly to you over the google network. Right now, GrandCentral only connects you to other normal phone numbers, but it would be trivial to have it bridge a VOIP connection. How convenient that Google bought GrandCentral last year!

In a nutshell.. "all" google needs to do is:

1. get spectrum and deploy WIFI over it

2. get android onto phones to better control contact management and call routing, to make call routing between the different networks seamless from the user standpoint

3. have grandcentral ready to scale for anyone signing up, to act as a bridge between their network and the POTS network, making call routing seamless from the other caller standpoint.

Of course, these are all big hard steps, but nobody ever said changing the world was easy. Even knowing this plan, I'm not sure what the carriers can do to stop it besides their usual regulation/lobbying games.

as more people are setup on this, everyone will eventually drop their normal phone carrier and get free phone and data access from Google... but the most beautiful part of this plan is that not everyone has to switch at once, because it interoperates smoothly with the existing network. Also elegant is that because the plan presumes that people will maintain their existing carrier for a while as the world transitions to their network (use it when you got it), it means their network doesn't have to be 100% deployed or necessarily high quality all the time from day 1, like the normal phone carriers had to be when they first deployed. They can also make it so if it detects you are moving fast when placing the call, it defaults to the normal phone carrier, until Google's network coverage is 100%. (Note to google: start working on a wifi protocol that handles handoffs more smoothly than 802.11!)

Over time though, i'm sure the word of "free cell phone" will spread. Free is pretty damn compelling.. and that might spell GAME OVER for the big wireless carriers.

I know this was probably obvious to most people already, but i just wanted to write my thoughts down on this one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is truly great stuff. For me all this didnt seem obvious.

I think not being 100% reliable on day one and figuring out as you go along as classic google DNA. See Gmail, Google Spreadsheets etc that have operated in beta forever...

great stuff....


9:33 PM  
Blogger Jarrod Morgan said...

This is a great post! I hadn't thought of this yet, but given all of the pieces that you put out there, it makes sense. My one question is, what would a business model be for such an operation? I don't see how this increases eyeball count on their massive ad network. That is generally the model for giving something away for free.

7:54 PM  
Blogger KEITH POWERS said...


Nice post. Keep connecting those dots. (:


Ps. Love the new ZG pic.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi james, just caught your post today as i'm catching up on my blog reading. while it does seem that since you've written this goog may have decided to stay serious about the auction, your thoughts still made sense. i'd even add the inclusion of a plaxo acquisition as an integration of their distributed contact manager would facilitate the scenario you laid out.


12:09 AM  
Blogger Mukund Mohan said...

Hey James
Congratulations on your acquisition. Well done.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Jingsong Wang said...

Hi James,

I'm a Cal student and I've been following HotorNot for quite a while now (since my sophomore year at MV, which I hear you're from too!). My friends and I (the two others are UCB grads, one from MV, one from Lynbrook, small world huh?) are starting a web startup and we were really hoping you could give us some advice and insight into the bumps and dings we'll run into as we're planning for a launch in 2-3 weeks. Right now we're working out of our apartments in Emeryville and Cupertino, switching back and forth between the two. Any advice from you would really be greatly appreciated, as we know you definitely have the experience.

Anyways, you can email me at any time. Also, congrats on your recent acquisition!


2:13 PM  

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