Sundar Pichai, SVP of products at Google, said the company should announce plans to offer its own mobile services in the coming months, although he stressed that Google does not intend to be a network operator at scale.
During his Monday Mobile World Live Extra session at Congress, Pichai said in response to questions about the launch of a possible Google MVNO that the company is working on a project together with carrier partners. “Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations,” he said, comparing the company’s approach to its Nexus smartphone programme, where Google leaves others to serve the mass market.
“I think we are at the stage when it’s important to think about hardware, software and connectivity together,” he added.
In general, Google and Facebook are both seeking ways to connect more people in developing regions of the world, although the two internet giants are taking very different approaches.
While Facebook is focusing on the Internet.org project to bring free online services to users through collaborations with mobile operators, Google is engaging in large-scale projects to explore some highly futuristic ways of providing internet access to areas with little or no access.
For example, Project Loon, Project Link and Project Titan are seeking to provide internet access using balloons, fibre and drones respectively. Pichai pointed out that while people in the developed world now take connectivity largely for granted, “there are many parts of the world where people are offline,” he said, estimating the global unconnected population at more than 4 billion.
Pichai confessed that when Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page first broached the idea of putting large balloons in the sky to provide mobile internet coverage, he thought it was a “crazy idea…it sounded like science fiction!”
Now, Pichai seems convinced that Project Loon will work, and said he expects to see “real services” in a couple of years. Vodafone New Zealand, Telefonica in Latin America and Telstra in Australia are all involved in trials, for example.
On the subject of Facebook’s approach, Pichai said he was “very happy to work with them on Internet.org” by providing Google services, but commented that Google is doing something different as it is seeking to provide actual physical connectivity.
Although the projects are different, “at a high level these are complementary,” he said.