Lest you think the tech giant missed having a finger in this particular pie, Google surprised no one by debuting their own wireless carrier service earlier this week. Though the service is invite-only at the moment and only offered on Google’s own Nexus 6, they’ve negotiated a deal with both Sprint and T-Mobile to piggy back on their existing, nation-wide infrastructure to create a coverage area without having to build it. According to Google, the limited launch of this service is more of an experiment as opposed to a direct challenge of reigning champs ATT and Verizon. The major differentiator to their service? A low-cost, pay as you use it, data plan with data tethering, wi-fi calling that can also be used from other mobile devices such as tablets and laptops.
What this means for you:
Unless you have an invite in hand, you can’t jump onto the Google Wireless bandwagon yet, and if Google stays true to the “we’re just testing the waters” mantra, maybe not ever. But if Google can deliver a solid service for a fraction of the price that the big 4 carriers are charging now, it’s going to have repercussions on the entire mobile landscape. As they’ve done with Google Fiber, this particular foray into the bloody wireless markets is an exercise in forcing a change in the status quo where major carriers are squabbling over how to charge consumers more for less service. However, Google surely has an agenda that includes profit (they are publicy held), and you musn’t forget that the largest revenue stream for them is advertising and data mining. The mad scramble for dominance in the mobile data market is about as close as we’ll ever get to seeing a modern gold rush, and you can bet Google has been preparing to stake a claim since before you and I even knew there was “gold in them thar hills!”
Did you know that if you jailbroke your iPhone (or any locked smartphone) without your mobile carrier’s permission anytime between early 2013 and now, you were actually breaking a federal law? That’s right, due to an expired clause in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, it’s actually illegal to unlock a smartphone you own. This bit of nonsense was courtesy of a Congress that was deadlocked on just about every issue big or small, so it’s no surprise that only just now they are getting around to fixing an issue that both the FCC, Whitehouse and even mobile carriers recognized was just plain wrong.
What this means for you:
The “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” was passed by Congress on July 25 and is now awaiting the President’s signature, but the impending law seems like a token gesture in response to what is now more of a symbolic stance from a vocal minority of smartphone users. In the intervening 18 months, the mobile marketplace has seen a fierce rise in competition, including some carriers offering to pay off early termination fees to woo customers away from the competition. Most carriers now also offer plans that incorporate no-penalty upgrades to new hardware, another incentive to not bother unlocking phones or switching carriers. And to top it all off, the CDMA/GSM network divide continues to limit your unlocked phone to a single alternative (if you want nation-wide coverage).
The carriers, even though they “allow” you to unlock your phones once your contract has expired, still do not always make the process easy, nor is it always a simple technical process, especially on the Android platform. In the end, if you aren’t already a veteran jailbreaker, you are better off interrogating the salesperson at your local carrier store about upgrade options and no-contract plans rather than worrying about whether you can take your phone over to the other guys.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net