Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is the Googy-Man Buying a Phone...?

...or, more accurately, a whole lotta phones?

So - the 700MHz band of the radio spectrum is up for sale, and Google kicking the tires and pulling out its HUGE wallet. What's the big deal?

Set your Wayback Machine to the time when UHF (uh, that's Ultra High Frequency, not that odd movie with "Weird" Al Yankovic) was "adopted" by television in the late 1940's. (I say "adopted," because there was no concept of auctioning spectrum bands in the late 40's, people just used frequencies until things got very crowded.) It was chosen for a reason - that specific frequency band is very energetic, and penetrates a lot of things - so it is excellent for slipping it's little radio wavey self through your brick or wood wall so your "rabbit ears" on your TV can pick it up. (Uh, for those under 25: a "TV" is a "television," a primitive broadcast receiver used as entertainment before there was an internet, "rabbit ears" was a dipole antenna used for television reception - although in this drawing it, admittedly, looks like a pair of ovaries - and a brick wall is that thing your mom would through plates against when dad came back stinking of gin.)

Flash forward to the mid-90's, when the FCC declared that by 2009 (the date was extended from the original 2008 deadline), all terrestrial (over-the-air) television broadcasts would be required to be a digital broadcast, and gave terrestrial broadcasters the slice of the spectrum that would be required for such a broadcast. In return, however, their analog broadcast bands (47MHz-88Mhz and 174MHz-230 MHzfor VHF broadcasts, and 300MHz-3GHz for the UHF broadcasts) would get returned to the pool of available spectrums... (Jeez, that preamble all kinda came out in one giant, electromagnetic, geeky orgasm didn't it?)

....sooooo....that brings us to today. The 700MHz band is going up for auction, and cell carriers want it. Verizon wants it, Sprint wants it, and AT&T wants it... it's more spectrum, and the signal that can be carried would be clean and be perfect for cell phone transmissions....

...or wi-fi/wi-max transmissions.

Enter Google. Google wants more than just all of your personal data and web habits, they want the 700MHz band. They also - not coincidently - want all the extra "dark fiber" buried in the US. (Without having another existential geek-gasm: "dark fiber" is a term used for the bazillions of miles of unused fiber optic cable that was laid in the ground during the dot com bubble by no-longer existing teleco wannabes like "Global Crossing." Those companies went belly up or experienced extreme "financial stress," and the fiber remains underground, unused.)

So, let's add all this up, shall we:

  • 700MHz is good for high speed communications with decent range and energetic enough to penetrate solid structures
  • Google is considering bidding on this band, to the consternation of Verizon and the other 900 pound cellular gorillas
  • Google is also looking for people with expertise in locating and identifying the owners of dark fiber
  • Google is playing around in setting up massive municipal WiFi networks
  • Google has more money than your Daddy will ever make in a million lifetimes, regardless of who your Daddy may happen to be...yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Miss Hilton.
So, Google buys the 700Mhz band and the dark fiber, pays a couple of guys named "Ed" to put up a few thousand transmission towers, wires them all together with their brand, new fiber - puts out that google phone we've all heard about (or works a deal with Apple...or, you know, buys Apple).... afraid, Verizon, be very very afraid! Rejoice, cell phone toting public held hostage by your cell phone carrier! Weird out, activists worried about Google making that final connection between your information and the pipeline that carries that information about!

Despite my concern over Google become an information-datamining-warehouse-evil-behemoth, only a company the size of Google with the resources of Google could take on the current cell phone giants by changing the underlying infrastructure. Moving to an IP-based mobile communication world ultimately gives the consumer a real, true choice. Not just a choice between AT&Tingular and Verizon, but a choice between traditional cell phone network technology and a real, wireless broadband infrastructure.

It also means, of course, that Google really will own that wireless pipe that your information is traveling across.

...oh, but we live in interesting times, don't we?


Anonymous said...

Correction--Global Crossing is still provding Dark Fiber and many other telecom services to Google and others :)

Anonymous said...

That is very true - but Global Crossing was seriously battered in the crashes that occurred in the late 90's. At one point, they were poised (in analyst's eyes, at any rate) to be the new AT&T - with a $5B market cap. When the crash happened, they avoided total collapse, but sold most of their assets and shut down a lot of their fiber projects.