Google’s ambitious vision for its own wireless data network revealed in a patent. What a pity it’s dead

If Google did not cave in to Verizon on most things wireless, to boost the Android OS. If only they had more balls and went through with the bid to buy a chunk of radio spectrum for mobile communications back in 2008…

Today Google has been awarded a patent, that shows how it could have could have made mobile data networks work in a much more efficient, market driven way.

Currently the mobile carriers buy or are allocated a slice of radio spectrum to provide their services, and within certain limitations, they are pretty much free to do what they want with it. Efficient use of the spectrum and user interests usually take the back seat to earning as much as carrier can from the slice it owns. And since nobody else is allowed to do anything in that spectrum band, without carrier’s say so – devices with better, alternative uses are not even considered.

Google’s ambition, if they got themselves a chunk of wireless spectrum to do as they like, was very different. They wanted to create an auction system, in which any mobile device could dynamically bid for the amount of data and transfer speed it needs at that moment, in real time.

Only need the basic service for push e-mails, SMS and pinging the network to show that the device is on? That you could get for free. Need a voice service, want to do a bit of browsing and let some apps get small amounts of real time data – like weather, calendar, Twitter and RSS reader updates? Pay a nominal monthly or weekly fee and you have it. Want to stream movie from Netflix to your mobile device – that depends. If it’s at night, in low trafficked area and there’s a lot of unused network resource – the nominal fee might cover it. If it’s during the day and a lot of people are doing things on their mobiles, your device bids for the amount network access that will allow you to get the movie. If you opt for a lower speed and can wait few minutes – it’s one price. If you want to stream it right now, in HD – the price goes up. You decide.

In the middle of it all is an auctioneer/clearing house for spectrum allocation, and a smart mobile devices that can receive and understand directions from the network about access to transmit rights, and how much power they can use to transmit data. When there is a limited amount of spectrum at some location, the automated bidding process between devices starts, until the service levels and data allocations are sorted out.

In the long run, this may have been a much more efficient way to tame the 5% of wireless data hoarders that use 80% of network resources streaming videos and downloading files all day. While making mobile data much cheaper and accessible for the rest of us.

Alas – Google withdrew from the radio spectrum auction in 2008, after a minimum bid. And more efficient, market driven wireless data network is just another thing Google toyed with once, and then abandoned.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Walt French

    Here’s a quote from “mobiledia” (“yuck!”) a year ago: “Apple’s patent defines an MVNO that can access different carrier networks, with the operators bidding to offer Apple the best rate.” Supposedly, this “updated” a 2006 patent.

    Now Google might have had a more dynamic auction process, and there might be other important differences. I’m not claiming who’s firstest with the mostest.

    But this would be the ultimate “dumb pipes” business, wherein the phone inquires who wants to provide ad hoc access, and the phone accepts any particular carrier’s offer— or maybe even decides to wait until it has wifi, which iPhones already do for some data. It’s unsurprising that cell phones are heading this way, giving more control to the user (and the smart communicator in her purse).

  • Staska

    I’m well aware about Apple’s MVNO paten. Wrote about it in 2008: 

    However Apple seems to have abandoned this idea long ago, and even with $100+ in the bank – doesn’t seem interested in doing it. Just as Google seems to have abandoned idea and went the carrier way. 

    While carriers may be getting their influence curbed with OTT services like Skype, Whatsapp, etc; Except for iPhone – their influence on the success of the mobile platform and device level seems only to be increasing. With Windows Phone and maybe even Blackberry to play against Android and iOS – it will only increase further. Look how Chinese carriers are taking over the open distribution channel in China for 3G. 

    Don’t see that changing anytime soon without some serious regulatory overhaul

  • Walt French

    I’m (also, I guess) a longtime proponent of the theory that the carriers want to play handset manufacturers against one another, too. It’s a natural side effect of Economics 101 monopoly/oligopoly monopsony/oligopsony theories. Most memorably understood as “keep ’em barefoot & pregnant,” they’ve doled out “work” to whichever carrier was in danger of slipping beneath the waves, keeping the more successful ones from becoming too powerful.

    But it’s obvious that this force only goes so far against other business forces. BlackBerry is a dead man walking; I’m less certain about Nokia/Microsoft but haven’t figured out how they will survive two more years. Carriers can’t force people to buy dead platforms, nor will people lock themselves into ecosystems with bare shelves. No amount of marketing would’ve saved the Kin, for example.

    Because you know that this is an old favorite business plan, never put on the shelf and not in need of dusting off, you also know that the utter collapse of handset competition has NOT been stopped — hard to see that it’s even been slowed — by the carriers’ wishes. So Apple, Samsung and everybody else put together have split the profit pie 73:26:1. 

    Verizon was hugely successful in bringing Android to market, well worth all their time & money. But I can’t really see a significant success since. I don’t understand the economics of the carriers well enough to say when the growth slows enough to force them to compete on pricing, but they are utterly failing in that they are losing control of customers’ perceptions of who brings the value to phones. It *must* happen in the next couple of years.*

    * admission: I have thought the same of another industry’s practices, for about 3 decades now. But I *am* wiser now!