November 9, 2007 4:00 AM PST
Perspective: Parsing the Google announcement that wasn'tSee all Perspectives
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As newsworthy as it was, the announcement of an open development platform for mobile devices featured no mention of the Google phone. That disappointment didn't stop Think Equity from painting an $850 target on the stock. Maybe some bright bulb will finally slap a $1,000 price and we'll be done with it already (and no, Henry Blodget doesn't count).
But if Google bulls really want to party, they should consider the announcement that still wasn't. Or may or may never be.
Let me explain.
In a couple of months, the government will begin a long-awaited auction of 700MHz wireless spectrum. This could go down one as of the biggest events in the history of the mobile and broadband markets. The spectrum is considered especially choice because it can travel long distances and penetrate walls.
And everyone's dying to know what Google will do. So far, Google's only hinting that it might place a bid--either alone or with a partner. And because nobody outside of the Googleplex really knows what Google's brass is thinking, the big carriers can only wait and hope.
In an interview with CNET News.com earlier this summer, Chris Sacca, the executive at Google directing what are called special initiatives, put it this way: "Google is willing to do anything necessary to introduce some competition into this space and to really drive the prices of service to where they are most affordable to the broadest number of people."
Spoken like a true politician.
Here comes the Gphone?
With its billions of dollars in cash and marketable securities, Google can buy its way into the game. If you're only talking about dollars and cents, the company can easily afford to buy enough spectrum to build a network that would accommodate a so-called Google phone. If push comes to shove, that is.
Above all, Google wants to ensure that any future generation of mobile broadband hardware will run its mobile applications in the post-auction era. I think the decision whether to build a Google phone hinges more on whether the network carriers act in their own enlightened self-interest. If the carriers don't stand in the way of Google-friendly devices and applications, why wouldn't Google want to be their partner?
Let's not forget that for all Google's success, the company remains basically a one-trick pony. It's one helluva pony but there's nothing in Google's corporate DNA to suggest it will achieve the same level of excellence as a network operator that it does in search.
The way things currently stand, the carriers control the devices that run on their networks. And if they want to make it hard for Google-friendly devices to flourish, they can.
Of course, none of this takes place in a vacuum.
For the last year Congress has been debating whether to pass Net neutrality legislation. Google and other big Web sites clearly want the government to force the carriers to guarantee equal access. If the Democrats add an FCC majority to their existing majority in Congress, the pressure will only ratchet up.
That's a big consideration for any carriers who might want to try to give Google a hard time.
And that's also the point at which Google goes to the mattresses.
Charles Cooper is CNET News.com's executive editor of commentary.
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