Seth Weintraub at 9to5Google reports that Dish Network and Google are “deep into development plans” to launch a wireless service in the second half of 2013, using traditional cellular towers for data and routing voice and SMS only through VoIP. Weintraub advances the Wall Street Journal‘s piece from Friday, which said only that the talks “aren’t advanced and could amount to nothing.”
My colleague Kevin Fitchard wonders whether a Google/Dish tie-up would be a perfect match a or a disaster in the making, which is a good question. Dish holds some very valuable spectrum, and Google has the deep pockets and mobile experience to move the needle in the industry. On the other hand, neither player has any experience building or operating a wireless network, and they could be competing against AT&T, Verizon Wireless and others who have many years under their belts.
But Dish’s spectrum alone isn’t nearly enough to compete with those entrenched carriers on a national level. Dish has only about 40 percent of the spectrum of AT&T or Verizon, CEO Charlie Ergen said just last month, and would need to find more either by partnership or acquisition if it hopes to become a major player.
I’m not sure that’s what these two companies have in mind, however. Building a nationwide LTE network is an extremely expensive proposition, and I don’t think Google really wants to compete in a big way with the carriers that are now its partners in Android. Instead, I think Google and Dish may be looking to change the game by offering a disruptive service in a few key markets. The new carrier may eschew the handset subsidies that are a fundamental part of the traditional industry in the U.S., for instance, and could offer substantially cheaper services by leveraging Wi-Fi, just as Iliad’s Free Mobile is doing in France. That strategy may never result in a new dominant carrier, but it could spur evolution in the wireless industry.