Details of what Google insiders are calling “Project Nova” were unveiled by Sundar Pichai, recently promoted as second in command to co-founder Larry Page, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
Subscribers of Google’s virtual network will be able to switch seamlessly between mobile phone and WiFi signals, and between the masts of competing mobile phone networks, as their phones seek out the best signals.
Dropped calls may also become less of a nuisance, as phones will automatically try to redial the number should the communication be cut mid conversation.
Nova, which will begin life as a US project, is part of a wider move by Google from software into networks, and the company’s ultimate goal is to beam internet connections to the earth’s remotest reaches, where four billion people have poor internet connections or simply live offline.
“We are creating a backbone so we can provide connectivity,” said Pichai. “We will be working with carriers around the world so they can provide services over our backbone. We want to focus on projects which serve billions of users at scale and which make a big difference in their every day lives.”
Leaks in January suggested Google had already signed agreements for Nova with Sprint and T-Mobile in the US. Google will not put up its own masts but will buy airtime wholesale from networks and repackage it for Nova subscribers. The model is known as MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. It is used by services such as Tesco mobile and would be relatively simple to expand into Europe and further afield.
Pichai claimed Google’s intention was not to compete with existing operators like AT&T, but to improve their performance by demonstrating what was possible.
He said the project would follow the same model as Google’s Nexus devices, low cost but high performance phones and tablets which are made in partnership with manufacturers such as Samsung and LG.
“We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale,” said Pichai. “All innovation in computing happens at intersection of hardware and software. That is why we do Nexus devices. We do it at enough scale to achieve impact. We are at a stage now where it is important to think about hardware software and connectivity together.”