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Google Plans to Be a Wireless Carrier, but at Small Scale

Sundar Pichai confirmed the long-rumored plan in Barcelona, likening it to Google's Nexus program.

Asa Mathat

Google on Monday confirmed it plans to start offering its own brand of wireless service later this year, but said it will do so only at a small scale to show carriers new possibilities.

“We don’t intend to be network operator at scale,” Google’s Sundar Pichai said in a speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Rather, Pichai likened what Google is doing as akin to its Nexus hardware program, where it also dabbles but leaves the mass market to the larger players. Google has also taken a similar approach in home broadband, where it offers ultra-high-speed Google Fiber service, but only in a handful of cities.

To offer wireless service, Google will need to lease capacity from one or more existing carriers, with Google acting as what is known as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO. Pichai said that the company has already reached out to several.

“We’re working with some partners to do what we’re doing,” Pichai said, according to the Verge. “Carriers in the U.S. are what powers most of our Android phones, and that model works really well for us.”

Pichai said a more formal announcement of the service will happen in the coming months.

Even at a small scale, Google’s entry could be a big headache for wireless carriers already under enough pressure from one another.

The Information reported earlier this year that Google was looking to act as an MVNO.

Additional reporting by Bonnie Cha.

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