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Podcast: Will the Google Phone disrupt the wireless industry?

Google is preparing to launch and sell a new smartphone, untethered from the cellular carriers. Learn the two factors that will determine its success.

Podcast

Google is preparing to launch and sell a new smartphone, untethered from the cellular carriers. Learn the two factors that will determine its success.

The Big Question is a joint production from ZDNet and TechRepublic that I co-host with ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan.

You can play this 14-minute episode from the Flash-based player at the top of the page or:

If you enjoy this podcast, please go to to our iTunes page to rate it and leave a short review.

Stories discussed in this episode:

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.

60 comments
Bo Tym
Bo Tym

this was painful to listen to, im not sure they could have said "you know" many more times than they did.

hahelm
hahelm

Love the content, good ideas, but filtering out the "ya know"s is REALLY a buzz killer.

david.schofield
david.schofield

Google should be the carrier of record for the user and have the device to run on the best coverage at the point of user need being wi-fi, cdma, gsm, 3G, 4G, LTE agnostic of carrier. It also must seamlessly move from coverage provider to new provider as the device moves while in use without coverage loss. Add in technical and customer service unlimited for a low fixed cost per month. Ubiquitous should be the function and maybe the name.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

It won't work as well as it could, and should. The reason is that the phone is excluding Verizon, who has the best service in the country, as a service provider. It doesn't make a big difference that it's a great phone when you are stuck with lousy phone service. If this phone worked with all the service providers in the US, then it could be a disruptor.

Oldmanmike
Oldmanmike

Is there a text version of this article? I hate to sound old-fashioned, I would prefer to read articles. I can read at a much higher speed than you can talk, and the folks manning the web filters here won't have a cow about me streaming content or trying to go to iTunes from a corporate PC.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Why? 1. Charging for text messaging: This is BS. It cost a carrier basically nothing to relay text messages, but they do it because it's another revenue stream. 2. Outrageous data plans: You know something is wrong when you pay more for sh***y 3G Internet on your cell phone than you do your blazing fast home cable Internet.

peter.demasi
peter.demasi

Doesn't matter, the carriers will still try to lock you into a contract to get the best price for the services.

RobNoyes
RobNoyes

My suspicion is that Google plans to connect this phone (and future phones) with Google Voice, but I'm not hearing anyone mention it. If Google's intention is freedom from carriers, then it's probably not too worried about the phone's long term adaptation to any or all carriers. Weakening all of them by allowing its phone on any of them is step one; then, providing a Google Voice number for phone owners and slowing waiting on ubiquitous wifi to arrive are steps two and three. Once the phone can make use of open wifi, which is probably doable in many large cities to some extent already, why would anyone belong to a carrier? Voice and web will all be available without any associated costs. Please let me know your comments. RN

mark.ivanowski
mark.ivanowski

Where is the freedom? Locking networks is the only way Telcoms make money. Cellphones should be $5.00 /month to do what they do now. But if they want to charge they should use a tech that would make cellphones work. My big problem with cellphones is the same one since I got my first one: IT DOESN'T WORK. DROPS, DROPS, DROPS AND DROPS... now is the internet on cellphoens... I feel like in the dial-up era.... when it will work?

walkabout
walkabout

I'd prefer a text version of the podcast

peter.smith
peter.smith

You know, you know, you know I don't know, that's why I'm listening Larry please try to kick this bad habit

gpothana
gpothana

May be we have to wait and watch

wnp
wnp

Actually, in most of Europe you buy a heavily subsidized phone in conjunction with your SIM card from a carrier. Very few people buy their phone retail in Europe. The only big difference between the cell phone markets in Europe and the US is that in Europe we don't pay for incoming calls/airtime, with the result that cell phones are more expensive to call (because the caller pays the airtime).

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Google have their own way to get the signal to the device then. Otherwise, no.

terry.floyd
terry.floyd

I thought the whole intent of Google's bid for wireless spectrum (when analog television was phased out and the FCC auctioned off that band last year) was to introduce a Google-branded phone service. The Google phone seems to be a logical step in that direction. If Google becomes a player in the phone market (and Grand Central/Google Voice is certainly a factor here), with advertising subsidizing the hardware costs, then yes, this will be a game changer for the industry.

xcav8r369
xcav8r369

I wish I had done this 5 yrs ago, I'd have saved thousands. Hope this helps someone. After 11 years with the same phone account, I dumped "unlimited everything Sprint" $99/mo + $35-40 in taxes = $140 And went to unlimited everything BoostMobile for $51. No taxes. No contract. Same exact plan. Same exact phone even! Boost gave me a $20 Boost sim for my Nextel i850and then gave me $20 off for switching (so, free sim). Same Nextel network (which I've never had a prob with (construction - I travel to some desolate places).

Carolina Blue
Carolina Blue

It costs the carriers nothing, zero for you to send a text. It travels in the channel between your cell phone and the tower, which your cell phone is already in communication with. That is why your text is limited to 160 characters, because that is all of the space in that channel. So yeah it is BS that the carriers are charging for this, just another way to make a dime!!

david.schofield
david.schofield

Sure they will, that would be great. Getting the carriers to compete at the minute level would be fun.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Is already here on Android phones. Google Voice is already platform independent. You don't even need a smart-phone, as Google Voice can be forwarded to ring through to any number. Heck, it doesn't even need to be wireless. I've got my Google Voice number in 916 ringing my home number in 330 and my Cell which is also now a 330. On the cell, because it is a Droid, I've also got the Google Voice app, which allows me free unlimited texting and free visual voice mail with transcription of voice to text. Both of these services Verizon charges extra for, and voice to text simply isn't offered by the Verizon Visual Voice Mail app, which also has a monthly fee. But the point is that Google Voice is already competing in this space. They didn't need a new, Google branded phone to do that. Their Android army that is already in place is ready to fight that battle.

laplatakid
laplatakid

RobNoyes idea makes the most sense of all I've seen so far. Many major cities, and some smaller ones, already have wireless networks available. So do many restaurants / fast food joints. And then there's the universities... JW

david.schofield
david.schofield

A device that can have more than one carrier assigned so coverage is no longer an issue on a pay as you go so all the carriers increase coverage to keep your business. Get Google to do that. The voice and data has to travel on someone's network make them compete at the user level head to head.

sharrison
sharrison

If you can't make calls without droping and your internet does not work you may have the wrong provider for the area. Sounds like an Iphone issue to me. :-) Some providers have better coverage in different ares. Unless its Verizon, I never have issues... unless I'm in a lead lined bunker hundreds of feet under ground. But that happens rarely!

wdreese
wdreese

I actually quit listening to the pod cast because of, well You Know, and came here to the posts instead.

frgood
frgood

with Peter. But you already knew that.

efripp
efripp

You must be a consultant.

houtbayblogger
houtbayblogger

As with Europe, our phones are mostly subsidized - even the pay as you go ones - however in most cases a 2 year contract has to be signed. It is interesting, though, that these phones are not locked to networks at all. Instead providers give you a new phone after 21 months, to avoid the risk of looking for alternatives after 24 months. So here there is nothing to stop service providers giving out subsidized google phones.

stanberka
stanberka

The Nexus One is not impressive as hardware. Not better than Droid, for example. No hardware keyboard doesn't make it even better than G1 (other than having a better camera, hopefully, and more system memory). It has proximity sensor, whatever it is, but other than this, nothing new. The only really significant element of this event is, or may be, the fact that this is probably the first cell phone sold independently of the service plan. That may be the start of turning the current cell phone business model upside down. Or not. It depends if there are enough many people, who want to spend $530 on a device that you usually break or destroy (drop into a toilet, than wash it, and dry it, or just drop it hard on the hard tiles floor in your own bathroom) in 6-12 months. I don't know many people who had their phone safely used longer than 18 months. But for $325 you can buy an inexpensive notebook (yes, it'll be a bit heavier). And add to it a simple cell phone, free, with the voice plan and you see what I mean. You see, dropping your notebook into the toilet is just not that easy. It may just not fit there. droidguy

jhnhth
jhnhth

till Google makes an announcement of its plans? All this speculation, disagreement and pointless argey bargey about what might or might not happen is a waste of energy. If only this energy and thought could be put into solving some real problems, wouldn't the world be a wonderful place. Happy New Year.

don.howard
don.howard

Absolutely, provided the handset price is reasonable. Consider this scenario. - A year left on an AT&T Family Plan contract - light text messaging - Would like light data capability - WIFI only data would be fine 90% of time With AT&T, if I want a handset with WIFI, I have to get a smart/PDA phone - along with the smartphone dataplan. If Google could sell me a handset in which I can place my AT&T sim card and meet the above criteria - at a resonable price - I would be all over it. On the the other hand, if they come out wanting $700 for the handset, it won't make much difference at all.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

to buy the device separate from the cellular service, to make the wireless carriers have to compete on price (rather than just locking people into expensive contracts if they want to buy the best smartphones).

dcolbert
dcolbert

In the lengths they're willing to go to challenge and upset the status quo, so nothing would *surprise* me, per se. But I don't see that this would necessarily be a very successful venture. This goes back to one of my earlier discussions regarding Google and their growth in the Cloud and their entry into OS platforms. At that time, I compared to Intel under Craig Barrett during the dot.com explosion. Craig realized that there was a critical inflection point taking place and he wanted to position Intel well to capitalize on those opportunities as they arose. In pursuing this goal, he purchased up a ton of small startup dot.coms and brought them under Intel. The problem was, being a dot.com business was not Intel's core business. Intel is a manufacturing company. Intel wasn't suited to web hosting, or to making electronic toys, or selling consumer grade networking equipment, or any of a number of other projects Craig diversified into. As the dot.com bubble burst, Intel bled and their stock tanked and Intel shuttered, sold or spun off dozens of these companies along with reducing thousands of employee heads in their own organizations. What does becoming a handset manufacturer or a wireless carrier have to do with Google's core business, really? Which is advertising? Possibly, possibly there is the thinnist of links, if they could deliver not a carrier subsidized phone, but an advertising subsidized phone and wireless service. That would be ambitious. Especially trying to compete with Verizon's far superior network. A free wireless smart phone on a free network, ad supported, maybe with "purchased" buy-up, paid features. How many people would put up with coverage issues for an iPhone type experience for free? I think I may be on to something. This makes more sense than any other idea I've seen floated here. But it is crazy ambitious. Are they positioned to do this? Are there federal laws that mandate that they must be able to reasonably lease infrastructure from other carriers, or would they need to roll out their own cellular tower network? That is really the key to if this is possible/plausible or not, and I don't know. Unless they know something is about to change, maybe at the federal level.

atoms
atoms

thanks - video is a massively inefficient medium for conveying this kind of information.

HLecter
HLecter

I completely agree! After suffering with pitiful AT&T "service" for years, I switched to Tracfone, then to Net10. I get unlimited calls to ANY phone (not just cell phones) for a flat rate, and NO contract. Replacing or upgrading phones is cheap, easy, and whenever you feel like it. I have 6 phones and I can manage all of them on the net10 website. It would be heavenly to get a Google phone with this service.

RobNoyes
RobNoyes

But each of the Android phones already in place is aligned with a specific carrier. So if you wanted an Android phone, to get it you agree to its carrier's term. This one isn't tied to a specific carrier. This one puts pressure on the carriers because you can shop around for the service that gives you the best price, like david.schofield@ said, getting them to compete at the minute level. I think Google, realizing at the moment wifi isn't everywhere, knows there are people who will need their phone at all times...not just when they're within range of a wifi hotspot. Those people (I'm one of them) have to pay for 24/7 service, but as wifi slowly grows and grows I can look forward to the day when I can say goodbye to all of them. One last note...the first carrier out there who realizes they are no more than an ISP for mobiles that leverage apps like Google Voice will get my money...and start the landslide of all the other carriers at the same time.

john
john

I don't think a transcript would be any easier to read than the podcast was to listen to. The thing is I really don't know and I was waiting to be told what I don't know - not instead that I already knew it, whatever it was. Is that guy an ex-deejay or something? That might explain his problem.

aballenb
aballenb

Haven't watched the video yet, but if it is full of "you knows", which irritate me greatly, then I am going to skip it. If there is a text version of this, then I could skip over those annoyances and quickly glean the important information. Professionals in all fields really need to work on their verbal AND written communication skills if they want to get their message across. Maybe I am old fashioned, but the method and skill of delivery are as critical in some ways as the message itself.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...there are a couple of SmartPhones listed on the AT&T page that will let you buy them without having to add the data plan. I'm guessing it is an oversight by the site administrators (since one of the phones available online like this requires the data plan if bought in the store). One is a BB, and one is a HTC. Both have WiFi capabilities. On top of that, there is no price difference on the phones if you select a 1-year renewal or a 2-year renewal. Again, probably an oversight. But there they are, and have been for at least 3 weeks.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

If all service providers provided comparable service and used the same type of service, it might work. But here in the USA we are stuck with GSM and CDMA. Lots of great GSM phones, but GSM service is not as good as CDMA service. So unless someone comes out with a phone that can use either service, we are stuck.

efripp
efripp

"to buy the device separate from the cellular service, to make the wireless carriers have to compete on price (rather than just locking people into expensive contracts if they want to buy the best smartphones)." That was better than any point you had in your podcast. Maybe you should have discussed that. Unless this thing is CDMA(for people that have jobs and need their phone to work) and GSM(for people who live in a tent under a GSM tower in a metro area and can't leave because they don't have a car), then it will be just another phone, no different than the crappy G1 or the over-hyped droid. However, if the phone was CDMA and GSM capable, and was subsidized by Google, not the carrier(so you're not under contract and can make your own decision)THIS PHONE WOULD BE A GAME CHANGER, not because of the Android OS. But, I don't think there's a chance of that happening. BTW, right now the droid is supposed to be the flagship Android phone "chock-full of power" and the interface is slower than my WM6.5(granted it is custom SSK3.0). Is it that complicated to accomplish the flUIdity of the iphone? That evidently means something to consumers, seeing as how the iphone is otherwise inferior to the Windows Mobile platform.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

it works for ISP's with home computers and a similar service can be bought on most networks now anyway, called SIM Only.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Jason is entirely capable of writing a well written article. The audience of Tech Republic prefers a diverse range of media delivery. Some people like authoritative articles, some like interactive, informal blogs. Some people like audio podcasts, some people like video. Where there is a video or audio podcast, a transcript is nice for those who for one reason or another can't watch video or audio. A transcript would have been nice, and is generally included.

eye.tea
eye.tea

Because it's cheaper to record 14 minutes of conversation, than it is to pay someone with superior communication and language skills to write a well-written article from the same information.

MWatch
MWatch

You can't be serious 14 minutes? Dump the casts of all types! ALL of us can read. A transcript is NOT comparable to a well written article.

john.parker
john.parker

Not that your dulcet tones aren't sintillating, but edited transcripts would be welcome - and shorter.

Gonzalo34
Gonzalo34

I mean you're right, ya know :)

HLecter
HLecter

Are you talking about Ahmin Yehnoe?

dcolbert
dcolbert

I wonder what the chances are that Google plans to release a dual band phone, but is trying to keep it under wraps until release to try and take Verizon by surprise? Still, it comes back to Verizon being willing to activate dual band phones on their network, something they can't be compelled to do (presently). I don't think this is the likely motivation. I doubt it is an attempt to strong arm Verizon and AT&T to be more consumer oriented. I'd love it if it was - the consumers need a 800 pound Gorilla on our side pushing the wireless carriers around. But I think it is more likely that Google has a stategic plan to protect the Android platform integrity by setting a hardware baseline or "reference" model.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've got an employee who changed from the iPhone to the Droid, and one of the largest reasons he changed was because "The Droid is as responsive and fluid as the iPhone 3Gs". I use one daily, and it the most fluid phone I have ever used (having had an XV6800 previously). Far more fluid than the Storm 2 and Blackberry Tour that other employees here have. Comparing cooked ROMs to base units isn't fair at all, either. Most people don't want to head over to XDA to get their phone fine tuned (or bricked). Out of the box, the Droid does a very good job at a fluid and smooth experience.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

so I cut to the chase. Hey, if Google want to make their own handset then I say go for it. Just don't get why at present.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Was talking about the US market, even though the subject was In India... Little confusing. But he is right, and far more concise than I was. Unless it is a dual band phone that allows you to move from Verizon to AT&T then it doesn't really foster any real compeition except among Android handset makers themselves, possibly (and the Droid remains largely unaffected - or with little incentive to act, anyhow). If it was dual band, Verizon could still simply refuse to activate it on their network, no? Not that Verizon would ever do something blatantly anti-consumer like that, secure in their dominance in the industry and consumers reluctance to give up superior network for whatever advantages carrier independence might offer. If this is a bid to upset the power structure among the wireless carriers, I can't see how it is going to be effective.

dcolbert
dcolbert

G-man, the one thing about you, is it is almost impossible to figure out exactly *which* side of the fence you are on. It makes it difficult to engage in a conversation with you. Lets get our facts on the table. So, right now you can get unlocked SIM based phones for non CDMA carriers in the US. Agreed? (note, I can't keep the different formats clear in my head, so if I'm getting this backwards, then bear with me, please). The primary non-CDMA phone that people are wildly interested in in the US is the iPhone. The other players are pretty much niche handsets. The iPhone is locked to AT&Ts network, but you can jailbreak it and use it on other non-CDMA networks. Other unlocked, non CDMA phones are available, but *most* consumers aren't interested, for a variety of reasons, which probably deserves it's own separate discussion. Now, opinion: An unlocked, carrier independent non CDMA phone backed by a player as visible as Google has the potential to be a significant player in changing current models of how consumers interact with their wireless non CDMA carriers - to a certain extent. As noted in various other articles, it could also be an attempt to take tighter reigns of the Android platform and market to set a benchmark. Intel did this with their Intel graphic chipset on their motherboards - with the intent that all machines should have a base level of 3D accelleration. I know from the inside that Intel's 3D chipset was designed specifically with that goal in mind. By developing a baseline - the idea was that end-users would be able to expect a certain minimum level of 3D capability from Intel machines independent of 3rd party GPUs. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Nexus-1 has a similar goal in mind of setting the "mimimum" standard for an Android phone, and setting that minimum fairly high - this would also make a lot of sense in competing with the #1 Android competitor (that is, the Apple iPhone). Right now a common complaint is that Android apps, especially games, are pretty sparse compared to iPhone offerings. This talk of fragmentation leads me to believe that the Nexus-1 may be designed to try and resolve that issue by making a baseline phone (like the iPhone) that all other Android phones will need to match. The logic there is that if you *add* features, that will be fine, as long as the most base phone can deliver an experience roughly the same to what iPhone users expect. Now, to my mind, the one thing all of this misses is that, culturally and technically, in the US, the most desierable wireless service is Verizon's CDMA network - and this phone doesn't (and can't) address that. Look at Verizon's relative inflexibility and immovability in realtion to the iPhone and it is clear that Verizon still considers themselves a premium service that doesn't have to put a lot of extra effort into remaining the competitive leader among wireless carriers. They took their time in getting to the Droid, and really relied on growing dissatisfaction with AT&T/iPhone performance to plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of consumers considering switching simply on handsets alone - and that in itself worked fairly well. Verizon will be the monkey-wrench in Google's plans, here. I'm not saying that Verizon was completely unconcerned with the iPhone - but they weren't ever in a panic, either. The Nexus-1 may create more competition and a higher baseline among non-CDMA carriers, but they're already the OS Xes and Linuxes of wireless carriers, compared to Verizon as Microsoft, in a relative sense. Google has repeatedly made erratic decisions as they rapidly expand their scope, influence and roadmap over the last several years. Chrome, Google Voice, Android, and Chrome OS - plus all kinds of other Web 2.0 apps and cloud activities and partnerships, have a lot of industry analysts scratching their heads. I've said before, sometimes it looks like they've got a brilliant roadmap, and other times it looks like their aimlessly driving country roads looking for a direction to follow. It seems like every 6 or 7 weeks I'm changing my opinion of Google from brilliant to morons to potentially dangerous and back again. Right now, I've got to admit, the Nexus-1 seems relatively pointless and likely to steal the thunder of the Droid (unless Verizon comes out quickly with a 2.5 upgrade) as the premiere Android phone. But maybe I'm missing a bigger Google strategy here, though. I suppose the Nexus-1 could simply be an attempt to keep Verizon playing nice in the Android arena. I just don't see how that works, though.

efripp
efripp

Big fuss is: Point 1- CDMA has way more coverage area hence more more market share in the US, it matters. So, it's gotta be GSM and CDMA or it still doesn't make the big two(AT&T and Verizon)compete. GSM only would mean that AT&T and T-mobile compete? Hardly any competition there. Besides, ther's already phones that do that. Point 2- The phone may be subsidized by Google, not the service provider so no need for carrier contracts. If that's the case, the carrier doesn't own you. You move as you please. Before you know it, your carrier will stop trying to rape you and start begging you to stay.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

different countries / cultures have different services on offer for mobile phones. When a new player emerges in a country / culture and trys another model people talk about it.

jaideeprw
jaideeprw

I don't understand whats the big fuss about it? In India the cellular service is only SIM (except for the CDMA ones), and people change service providers at the drop of hat. Maybe the new smart phone would compete on even basis in India.

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