Telecoms shouldn't be too worried about Google and Amazon's plans to disrupt wireless (GOOGL, AMZN)


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Two major tech giants may be looking into expanding the breadth of their services and increasing engagement with customers by moving into providing wireless connectivity.

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Google and Amazon already provide consumers with a range of services while they’re on the go — allowing them to shop, stream media, and more — and they’re now exploring ways to profit from the delivery of those and other services.

Here’s what Google and Amazon are reportedly up to:

  • Google officials have held conversations with Dish about potentially joining forces to launch a wireless carrier, reports the New York Post. Dish is the leading candidate to reach a deal with T-Mobile and Sprint about buying brands and spectrum from the divestiture sales US officials are calling for as a condition of their merger. Google has denied the Post’s report and claims that it hasn’t held any conversations with Dish about creating a wireless network. The search giant already offers wireless service as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) with its Google Fi program, which uses leased spectrum from T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. By teaming with Dish and pairing a version of its Fi service with the satellite TV operator’s already ample spectrum assets (which could be further improved following the divestiture sales), Google could be part of a formidable and competitive wireless option. This entity would be faced with a few key questions, though, especially around how it would work with mobile operating systems, and how a Google-backed carrier would deal with iOS devices.
  • Amazon has filed for permission from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch satellites as part of a space-based internet network. The e-commerce titan’s plans for space — unrelated to founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocketry company — first came to light last year, but the new FCC filing provides far more detail about the program, dubbed Project Kuiper. Amazon is seeking approval to launch into orbit 3,236 communications satellites, which would be able to provide connectivity for large swaths of the globe. They would broadcast in the Ka band of wireless spectrum also used by other satellite internet providers such as Iridium. Amazon’s plan for the initial network would be to provide high-speed, low-latency communication to rural areas and other underserved communities, though it could scale up operations — Elon Musk’s SpaceX has plans to launch a total of 12,000 broadband satellites, for instance — to become a general broadband provider.

Here’s what wireless networks from tech giants would mean for the market: Tech leaders represent a clear threat to wireless incumbents based on names, capital backing, and consumer recognition alone, but communications requires a commitment to infrastructure spending and technical expertise that makes the market resistant to disruption.

Past efforts by the likes of Google to enter the communications space are evidence of the tough time tech companies will face in connectivity. Google Fiber was the search giant’s attempt to spur fiber optic internet development by creating its own service, but the company paused new deployments after the expenses of its first six markets proved much higher than expected.

Getting into the wireless market could be even more costly, given the tens of billions of dollars that network operators in the US already spend to maintain, expand, and upgrade their current networks. Telecoms should carefully monitor efforts by giants of the tech world to move into wireless, but they shouldn’t get too scared just yet — tech companies will face a major uphill climb in the wireless space, ultimately providing telecoms with ample opportunity to ward off the potential disruptors.

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