How does the US wireless broadband landscape affect new products like Google Glasses?
July 8, 2012 4:43 AM   Subscribe

How does the US wireless broadband landscape affect new products like Google Glasses?

The buzz surrounding Google Glasses has been building some time and will certainly get much bigger. I recently read this article that described how cell phone carriers "dumb down" smartphones. The rationale presented is that carriers want to promote their own services (for instance Verizon removing Google Wallet from their phones so they can implement their own type of payment system). Another rationale is that if carriers offer the latest, full featured smartphones, they will need to reduce their data plan prices to compete with each other.

How does this affect Google Glasses? Will they likely be exclusive to one carrier like the first iphone or is it possible that Google will sell this product as carrier-independent or unlocked? Is this an accurate assessment in this article? The big carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-mobile) are always promoting their network coverage or network speed, but are they really removing features from smartphones so they aren't competing with each other for plan price? How do the smaller carriers (Boost, Cricket, Virgin) fit into this? Finally, is the situation different in the rest of the world?
posted by jwwarren to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To re-paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, U.S. wireless carriers can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain patient. Since there's no mandate to use a common wireless standard like in Europe and much of the world, you're almost guaranteed to see games played with carrier exclusivity. In Europe, almost all phones are unlocked, so they cost more up front, but obviously rates are a lot lower. What sometimes happens, like with the iPhone, is that you'll get a device manufacturer to still give an exclusive to a carrier, but in that case regulators broke the exclusivity. I don't know enough to say whether Google Glasses would be carrier-exclusive at first, though Google is clearly pushing in that direction harder than Apple.

As for adding carrier bloatware or removing features, it seems incredible to me that something like Google Glasses would be crippled or loaded up with bloatware, but look at the ongoing problems today with carriers doing just that.

The U.S. prepaid carriers will get devices a year or more after release, like always. Virgin Mobile, especially, will lag because you can't activate any device on their network except a VM-specific device, not even Sprint which is the network VM runs on! If that isn't anti-competitive, I don't know what is.
posted by wnissen at 6:55 AM on July 8, 2012

All the carriers in the US are actually moving toward a common wireless standard: LTE. It will take a few years to complete. When it is spread enough they will start shutting down their older systems. The different companies still operate at different frequencies, and, at least for now, they will insist that the phone manufacturers make sure the phones they sell for one company (say, AT&T), won't work with other companies (say, Verizon). It remains to be seen whether this artificial barrier will last.

Nevertheless, LTE is an enormous data pipe, and with the iPhone and Android, and even Microsoft, the day of proprietary phone services is pretty much gone (these phones still exist, but are now the 'cheap' phones. There are no longer any proprietary smartphones. I don't know how the phone companies could get this Genie back into the bottle).

So Google Glasses will work just fine on all the phone networks. The only thing you have to worry about is how much you are paying for data.
posted by eye of newt at 8:14 PM on July 8, 2012

My bet is that Apple will play the weaker US carriers off each other and then use that against Verizon and AT&T. I think this has allready started with the Virgin Mobile and Cricket (both are Sprint MVNOs) pre-paid iPhone plans, and will heat up further when/if t-mobile gets the iPhone in the US. When it's over, the carriers will be neutered and compliant, at least as far as Apple and Apple customers are concerned.

What Google will do, I don't know. With Android they gave the carriers back some of what Apple was taking from them, but in the long run, Google needs the carriers neutered and compliant too. I doubt they'll offer the carriers the same hand up they did before.

As for the prospects for Google Glasses, I think the carriers are not the biggest problem that "product" faces.
posted by Good Brain at 8:45 PM on July 8, 2012

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