Google to launch its own 'virtual' mobile network
Google is planning to launch its own mobile phone network as it plots a major business shift that will see the company move into supplying broadband connections across the planet.
The plans for what Google insiders are calling "Project Nova" were unveiled by Sundar Pichai, recently promoted to senior vice-president of product and second in command to co-founder Larry Page, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
Subscribers of Google's "virtual network" will be able to switch seamlessly between mobile phone and Wi-fi signals, and between the masts of competing mobile phone networks, as their phones will seamlessly switch between the best signals.
Dropped calls may also become less of a nuisance, as phones will automatically try to redial the number should the communication be cut off.
Nova, which will begin life as a US project, is part of a wider move by Google from software into networks, and the company's ultimate goal is to beam internet connections to the earth's remotest reaches, where four billion people have poor internet connections or simply live offline.
"We are creating a backbone so we can provide connectivity," said Pichai. "We will be working with carriers around the world so they can provide services over our backbone.
"We want to focus on projects which serve billions of users at scale and which make a big difference in their every day lives."
Leaks in January suggested Google had already signed agreements for Nova with Sprint and T-Mobile in the US. Google will not put up its own masts but will buy airtime wholesale from networks and repackage it for Nova subscribers.
The model is known as MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. It is used by services such as Tesco mobile and would be relatively simple to expand into Europe and further afield.
Pichai claimed Google's intention was not to compete with existing operators like AT&T, but to improve their performance.
He said the project would follow the same model as Google's Nexus devices, low cost but high performance smartphones and tablets made in partnership with manufacturers such as Samsung.