Google’s Working On Its Own Mobile Browser

Google’s working on a bunch of stuff in mobile, the WSJ seems surprised to report. There’s a lot of unsurprising information in the paper’s front-page piece, such as further rumors that Google’s working on its own handsets, and has shopped prototypes to operators and manufacturers. It does say, however that Google’s working on more mobile software, including its own mobile web browser.

The WSJ says the hook is that Google will offer all of this software (and perhaps even the handsets) to operators for free, in exchange for a cut of mobile ad revenue. Understandably, this has cause some operators to balk, like Verizon Wireless. That operator’s CEO says that the cut Google wants is too big, and that Verizon wants to control its own mobile ad revenues. This is where things could get a little more interesting. On one side, you have an operator like Verizon, who still has a walled garden, and wants to start making money from mobile ads. It’s not hard to imagine how they’ll do this: if you surf outside the garden, you’ll get some form of advertising either interrupting your activity, or taking up valuable screen space as you surf. On the other side, you’ve got Google, who’s arguably better than anyone at offering services users love that are supported by non-intrusive, yet effective, advertising.

Who do you think can do a better job — from a user-experience perspective and a financial one — of rolling out mobile ads? There’s been so much talk about how operators and vendors can respond the iPhone. At this point, it looks like they could do a hell of a lot worse than to get with Google and offer their users an integrated suite of services supported by ads, even if it means giving up a piece of the revenue.

Interwoven with all of this is speculation about Google’s role in upcoming US auctions for 700 MHz spectrum licenses. Google’s been pushing for the FCC to adopt a set of open-access principles for the license winners, chief among them a requirement that they sell wholesale access to their network to anybody that wants it. It even said it would bid $4.6 billion in the auction, if the FCC would adopt the measures, though that pledge failed to sway the Commission. There’s been a lot of talk that Google wants to have its own network, so it can run free, ad-funded service. But what Google wants isn’t necessarily its own network, but rather unfettered wholesale access to a network. That’s why it wanted the wholesale requirement — so it could buy wholesale access in a competitive market. Perhaps it will bid on 700 MHz licenses, then lease them to a network operator; perhaps it will turn to Sprint’s WiMAX network, given the company’s recently announced partnership.

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