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Project Fi will help Google amass even more data about you

Sharon Gaudin | April 27, 2015
Project Fi is feeding Google's long-term strategy — getting more data about its users that it can turn into ad sales and greater revenue.

As Google dives into the Wi-Fi and cellular network services business, some are wondering just where the company is headed.

Google, known for its dominant search engine and Android operating system, has been stretching boundaries with newer projects like autonomous cars and robotics. Now it's competing with the likes of wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T in the data and cellular market.

While the latest Google move may look confusing, Project Fi is feeding Google's long-term — getting more data about its users that it can turn into ad sales and greater revenue.

"I'm not sure they're trying to become a big-time wireless player," said Brian Haven, an analyst with IDC. "But by becoming a wireless service, it allows Google to gain a lot more data from new end points with users. Data is what drives them. Regardless of whether or not they can generate a nice revenue stream, the data will still feed into the other things they do."

Earlier this week, Google announced that it's working with Sprint and T-Mobile to come out with its own wireless network, dubbed Project Fi.

The company is asking would-be customers to sign up online for an invite to what it calls an Early Access Program for the service; Fi will only be available to Nexus 6 smartphone users at the start.

The service is gaining attention not just because it's a new venture but because it's coming in at a low cost — $20 a month for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage, with a $10-per-gigabyte fee for cellular data.

This, said independent industry analyst Jeff Kagan, is a strange move for Google, and one that only time will prove out.

"To tell you the truth I don't get it yet," Kagan said. "I was expecting more. I was expecting a big, innovative new-thinking approach that could transform the industry, but that's not what we got. Maybe it will eventually grow into that, but what we got was a disappointment.... Will this work? To me, this is a big question mark."

However, Kagan also noted that this is Google being Google.

The company, which makes most of its money on search and related advertising, is known for trying out various ideas and technologies. Not all of them work out, but Google doesn't seem afraid to try.

For instance, in the past few years, Google has bought at least eight robotics companies, including well-known Boston Dynamics. Google also has been quite publicly working on computerized wearables, Google Glass, while also test driving its own autonomous cars.

None of these ventures is directly tied to search, which is what made Google a household name. But that doesn't mean they don't fit into the company's long-term plans.

 

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