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Google: Friend or foe to telecom giants?

Vodafone throws a few jabs at Google and CEO Eric Schmidt calls carriers valued partners. Where does the truth lie? The relationship with carriers and Google is a tad complicated.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao worries about Google's dominance. Google CEO Eric Schmidt holds out an olive branch to wireless carriers and says that the likes of Verizon, Vodafone and AT&T are key partners and everyone wins if the companies serve the consumer.

Where does the truth lie? Somewhere in the middle. Simply put, the Google relationship with carriers is well, pretty damn complicated.

CNet News' Maggie Reardon reports from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and quotes Schmidt:

"Ultimately, these businesses will succeed to the degree that they stay end-user-focused. And the best partnerships start from that, and not from dividing the industry or restricting what people do."

Schmidt also said he doesn't want wireless carriers to be dumb pipes.

Yet Schmidt's company is launching fiber optic networks, bidding on wireless spectrum for giggles and pushing the Federal Communications Commission to make carriers squirm. And oh yeah, Google is trying to bust up the sales chain in the wireless industry too.

It's no wonder that Colao is spooked. He said that perhaps regulators should look at companies that control search and advertising. For those keeping score at home, that's a reference to Google and Yahoo.

Colao the broke out this handy chart.

Despite all the bluster these two crazy kids, Google and the wireless industry, need each other. Google needs carriers to distribute Android. And carriers need hot operating systems to capture data plan revenue.

That said, Google and the industry are at odds on many regulatory issues.

In this Knowledge@Wharton story, Wharton public policy prof Gerald Faulhaber sums up the state of affairs:

Everyone needs to do business with Google, so it's a friend. In the regulatory environment, Google is not a friend to carriers. Google wants net neutrality, dumb pipes and shared spectrum. For carriers, Google [needs to be] viewed dangerously in Washington.

In other words, it's unclear whether Google is a friend of foe to the wireless industry. The right answer is that it depends.

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