Google gets serious about wireless, with a little help from the FCC

The annual trade show of CTIA - The Wireless Association has been going on for only a few hours, and already the San Diego event's theme is clear: This is Google's wireless coming-out party, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is leading cheers. With a series of high-profile deals, Google (GOOG) is putting the cell phone industry on notice that the search giant intends to compete vigorously in the fast-moving market for wireless devices and services.

The latest pact is with computer manufacturer Dell to market a device powered by Google's Android operating system -- first reported by Crunchgear. It follows yesterday's announcements of a Google partnership with Verizon Wireless and AT&T's (T) reversal on allowing web-calling services on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone.
Dell plans to launch the Google-software-using phone on AT&T's network as early as 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal. The device will have a touch screen, like the iPhone, and a camera, but details remain scarce because both Google and Dell declined to comment.

Dell's partnership with Google is just the latest tremor in a series of seismic events shaking the wireless world. And Google couldn't have asked for a more sympathetic regulatory partner than Chairman Genachowski.

In fact, it's quickly becoming clear that Genachowski and Google are in fundamental agreement about many of the core issues facing broadband policymakers. Remember, Genachowski is a former technology executive and investor, and his sympathies clearly lie with internet companies in their fight against broadband providers over network neutrality -- the idea that all legal internet traffic should generally be treated equally.

What we're seeing in the wireless regulatory world now is what I would call "Google's Obama dividend." This is why Google supported Obama. The company may not have known that Obama would pick Genachowski -- an old Harvard law school chum -- but Obama made it quite clear, despite erroneous reports to the contrary, that he would support and expand net neutrality.

"In my time as an investor and executive I saw mobile go from a futurist fantasy, to a nice-to-have part of a company's game plan, to a must-have strategic priority. Today, every company in America -- entertainment, commerce, news, you name it -- knows it needs to have a mobile strategy," Genachowski said Wednesday morning at the CTIA conference.

Two weeks ago, in a major policy address, Genachowski proposed extending net neutrality to wireless service, a prospect that the major cell phone companies resist. During his speech at the conference Wednesday, Genachowski reiterated his support for net neutrality on wireless devices.

"I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve internet openness, whether a person accesses the internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook," Genachowski said. "I also believe the question of how we accomplish that goal, particularly in the wireless context, poses some difficult questions -- questions that remain open and will be considered in the FCC's proceeding."

Genachowski's remarks came one day after Verizon Wireless announced a major deal to sell new mobile phones equipped with Google's Android operating system. Hours later, its archrival AT&T said it would reverse its restrictions on voice-over-internet calls, allowing Apple iPhone customers to use net-calling applications like Skype.

"I appreciate AT&T's announcement yesterday allowing internet calling applications on the iPhone -- a decision I commend," Genachowski said. "And also Verizon's announcement about the Android platform. These are both wins for consumers."

The chairman also warned of a crisis approaching in the amount of wireless bandwidth available to carry the massive -- and rapidly growing -- amounts of data that users will send back and forth in coming years. He said the FCC would aim to free more radio spectrum for wireless service, expedite the building of new wireless infrastructure and require that the wireless internet remains open and competitive -- all music to Google's ears.

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