What Google's MVNO plans mean for the UK

Can Google offer anything new in an over-saturated UK mobile market?

Your next smartphone could be a Google one - and not just the operating system it's running.

'Project Nova' will see Google setting up a mobile virtual network, using a combination of existing network masts and Wi-Fi hotspots. But why is Google now getting into the network game, what new features can it offer - and can it cut it in the competitive UK mobile market? 

The key lies in its approach. Instead of erecting new masts, the mobile virtual network operator (or MVNO) business model involves companies purchasing chunks of bandwidth from competitors, which they can then repackage and sell on to new customers. This is the system currently used by providers like GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile, and has proved greatly successful in the UK.

Google has taken this a step further. Rather than the current MVNO setup, which relies on piggybacking on a single network's connection, Project Nova plans to license masts from multiple providers, flipping back and forth between them depending on connection strength.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

Since they wouldn't be locked in to one provider, regardless of signal quality, this project would allow customers to get the best possible connection in any given area, drastically improving mobile broadband speeds.

In addition to this, it will also incorporate the use of Wi-Fi hotspots, presumably using VoIP technology to transmit calls. This move could see Google making deals to use some of the projected 5.8 million public Wi-Fi zones that the Wireless Broadband Alliance claim will cover the globe by 2015.

Thanks to companies such as O2, BT and Sky-owned network The Cloud, there is already an abundance of public hotspots that Nova could use. Coupled with the government's increasing push for superfast broadband adoption, this could make Britain the perfect market for this service.

However, Google hasn't yet announced if or when the Nova MVNO will come to the UK. The scheme will initially launch in the US, with T-Mobile and Sprint rumoured as partners. However, it's likely that success in American markets will lead to Google rolling out the system in the UK, especially given the MVNO model's proven viability, and T-Mobile's existing market foothold as part of EE.

While Google's entry into a market doesn't always revolutionise it, the arrival of Project Nova in the Uk could well be a boon to consumers, according to Professor Will Stewart from the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He said that Google "is likely to pursue similarly innovative efforts in the UK, which could speed up the arrival of universal digital accessibility, not least by encouraging others providers to rise to the challenge".

That said, Google doesn't intend to topple the big mobile operators. Senior VP of Android, Chrome and Apps Sunder Pichai said that Google doesn't "intend to be a network operator at scale". Instead, he has compared the idea to the company's Nexus range of budget smartphones, demonstrating innovative possibilities "at enough scale to achieve impact".

Advertisement - Article continues below

The program is being operated as part of Google's ongoing strategy to link up non- or under-connected areas by providing a "backbone" of connectivity that other providers can use as a basis. In addition to Project Nova, Project Link is building high-speed fiber broadband in the Ugandan capital, while Projects Titan and Loon are trialling 4G mobile internet via drones and airborne balloons, respectively.

Featured Resources

Digitally perfecting the supply chain

How new technologies are being leveraged to transform the manufacturing supply chain

Download now

Three keys to maximise application migration and modernisation success

Harness the benefits that modernised applications can offer

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

The 3 approaches of Breach and Attack Simulation technologies

A guide to the nuances of BAS, helping you stay one step ahead of cyber criminals

Download now


cloud computing

Google adds partners to real-time translation tools

8 Jan 2020

The IT Pro Products of the Year 2019: All the year’s best hardware

24 Dec 2019
search engine optimization (SEO)

Google is getting worse as it does more

21 Dec 2019

The IT Pro Podcast: Is the future multi-cloud?

29 Nov 2019

Most Popular

Microsoft Windows

What to do if you're still running Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

13 Jan 2020
Microsoft Windows

Memes and Viking funerals: The internet reacts to the death of Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
web browser

What is HTTP error 503 and how do you fix it?

7 Jan 2020