Google reportedly wants to sell wireless service through Sprint, T-Mobile

The move could be the next step in Google's ever-widening ambitions to conquer the mobile world.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google reportedly wants to experiment with low-cost mobile plans. Getty Images

Google makes the software running on most smartphones, and now may also want to manage your mobile data and voice calls.

The world's largest online search company is getting ready to sell mobile plans that will run on Sprint and T-Mobile's cellular networks, according to The Information. The project, codenamed "Nova," would involve Google paying those carriers for access to their networks. The initiative, which is being led by Google executive Nick Fox, isn't expected to launch this year.

The move underscores Google's increasingly complicated relationship with the telecommunications industry as both partner and competitor. Google's Android operating system powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones, but carriers often act as the gatekeeper for where a person buys a device. The initiative, according to the Information, is meant to drive down prices and to try to improve the experience for customers.

Google, Sprint and T-Mobile declined to comment.

Google has embarked on a number of wireless connectivity projects, as it aims to bring more people online so it can expand its user base. The company has developed its own fiber-optic network, called Google Fiber, to deliver revved-up broadband access to customers.

The tech giant has also created Wi-Fi-beaming balloons that would spread Internet access across the globe to underserved regions. The company is also experimenting with satellites for that reason. On Tuesday, the company said it's taking part in a $1 billion investment, along with Fidelity, in the rocket company SpaceX. Some think the funding is a play by Google to beef up its satellite efforts.

The wireless network project would make Google a so-called mobile virtual network operator, which means that it doesn't own the infrastructure over which it offers services. Google would pay Sprint and T-Mobile for capacity over their networks, which in turn would be sold directly to consumers. Other companies competing in that market are TracFone and FreedomPop.

While Google would be selling its own mobile plans, it's unlikely that the project is a play to undercut the wireless networks. Those networks have marketing might and retail stores to attract customers and showcase plans, while Google expects to sell its plans through a Web store.

Instead of elbowing out the carriers, Google seems to be more interested in a larger attempt to shake up the industry and compel it to make changes that could benefit the company. For example, Google makes all but a sliver of its revenue from its juggernaut advertising business. Experimenting with low-cost plans could mean more people using more data -- which gives Google more opportunities to show advertising to consumers.

It's the kind of logic that drove Google to create the Android operating system in the first place. Offering wireless service paired with an Android device represents a logical next step.