Google has quietly set up operations as an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) in Spain, buying bulk network capacity from existing carriers and providing employees with a special Google SIM in order to use it. Intended initially to allow Google to perform Google Voice quality testing when paired with a Nexus S handset, members of Spanish forum ElOtroLado report, the SIMs variously use Movistar, Orange and Vodafone.
By negotiating with carriers directly to buy bulk data, voice and messaging provisions, MVNOs can secure better rates than individual or enterprise customers. Usually, that data, etc., is then sold on to consumers at a mark-up, thus allowing the MVNO to operate a mobile business while not actually investing in spectrum or network hardware itself.
In Google's case, however, the purpose looks to be more about getting its employees connected in a controlled and cost-effective way when mobile. Spanish trials are only reportedly the start of things. Google is expected to undergo further MVNO work in other European countries, though right now the beneficiaries are said to only be the search giant's own staff.
Google has long been tipped to be considering setting up business as a carrier of some sort. The original Nexus One was initially intended to bypass existing network operators, with Google hoping to sell direct to consumers rather than via the more traditional carrier-led sales network. That approach failed, however, in part because buyers blanched at SIM-free pricing which, on paper at least, appeared significantly higher than the subsidized devices they were used to buying.
There's no word on whether Google will extend its MVNO plans to offer SIMs to end-users, but with the company pushing for VoIP services like Google Voice and other data-centric applications, there are obvious benefits to it holding greater control to what pipe Android users rely on. What implications that might have to future antitrust claims remains to be seen, though; Google is already facing US and European investigations over allegations that its search business has squeezed out smaller rivals.
Update: Looks like things may not be so clear cut. paidContent points to suggestions at Xatak Android that these images may not be authentic. Google is declining to comment, which means it's wait-and-see for now.
[via 9 to 5 Google]