Last month, Google became a mobile wireless carrier in the U.S. They didn’t quite rock the boat as much as some people expected they would. But they did offer a different plan quite unlike what other telcos are offering. For a moment, I thought, would it be nice to have Google come to Singapore to rock the boat?
Google’s new telco is Fi. It is not a traditional telco that owns physical infrastructure. Instead, it’s what’s known as a MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, which rides on other traditional telcos’ infrastructure. Google Fi operates in the U.S., and uses Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s networks.
Just to quickly summarise Google Fi’s plan. For just US$20 a month, you get unlimited local calls, unlimited local and international text messaging, and coverage in 120 countries. Add US$10 for every GB of data you want, good for use within the U.S., and here’s the interesting bit, it also applies for international data roaming in 120 countries, albeit limited to 3G at 256 kbps.
Let’s think about that for a moment. The basic plan buys you unlimited local calls and unlimited local text messaging. That alone costs quite a bomb in Singapore, though it isn’t something terribly uncommon in the U.S. On top of that, you also get unlimited text messaging internationally. If you top-up the plan with another US$30 for 3 GB of data, you not only get to use it anywhere locally, but also at 120 countries. This sounds really nice for people who travel regularly. Although your data is capped at 3G 256 kbps while roaming, it is may be sufficient for checking email, Facebook, and other light casual use.
In Singapore, plans with unlimited calls are rather expensive. Singtel’s Combo 6 plan, for example, which offers unlimited local calls and unlimited local text messaging, costs S$239.90. It does come with 12 GB of local data. With Project Fi, you’d pay US$140 for something similar, but you additionally get to use that 12 GB of data at 120 countries.
If you travel a lot, in particular, Google Fi’s plan sounds very useful. No need to hunt for prepaid SIM at your destination. You continue to be reachable at your own original phone number. Data just works right away upon your arrival.
However, Google Fi isn’t in Singapore. In fact, not anyone in the U.S. can simply sign up for Google Fi either. At the moment, Google Fi is invite-only for Nexus 6 owners. It’s an exclusive club.
Nevertheless, I wondered about what would it be like if Google could come to Singapore to operate as a wireless carrier, either a physical one, such as bidding to become the 4th wireless carrier here, or in the form of a MVNO like they are doing in the U.S.?
I can see that SingTel would have to reprice their Combo 6 plan to stay competitive. I am assuming, of course, that unlike how Google Fi is in very limited availability in the U.S. currently, the idea here is that this new telco would be generally available to anyone who wants to sign up.
To be honest, I have little interest in unlimited voice and text messaging plans. Nowadays, we don’t make that much calls, unless, of course, the nature of your work requires you to make plenty of voice calls. Text messaging is pretty much replaced by other forms of Internet-based messaging networks like WhatsApp, Google Hangout or Facebook Messenger. Text messaging should already be unlimited, since it’s very low bandwidth anyway. Telcos can always put in some clauses to prevent abuse, or inappropriate bulk or commercial use, if they are so concerned about their customers overwhelming their text messaging capacity.
Apart from lowering prices, the quantum of bundled voice will probably have to be increased somewhat, or made unlimited even at lower price plans. The adjustments will surely have to cut across all the telcos, as they vie to stay competitive. The fourth wireless carrier doesn’t have to be Google, of course. Whichever new player that IDA awards the license to, they will have to rock the boat, and that will bring some change to the oligopolistic practices of the current telcos.
Above all, I think the international data roaming at no extra charge is really the biggest change that Google Fi has brought to the table. It is horrendously expensive for us to data roam. It is often the case for many other countries too, even with price caps like that set in the European. Google Fi brings the whole world to your finger tips. The Internet is transnational. With International data roaming at local data rates, Google lets you travel the world and access the Internet just like you’re at home. Except that, of course, you’re capped at 3G 256 kbps.
I’ve dreamed of the day when Internet access was completely seamless. Not just in the technical accessibility, but also in national policies, commercial pricing, and such. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, easily reaching across national boundaries, but here we are still grappling with pricing constrained by national boundaries.
Then again, there’s a concern I always have at the back of my head. Google is becoming the Internet. Google’s doing fibre broadband in some parts of the U.S., they’re sending out Internet balloons, and they seem to be doing everything to be that communication link that connects everyone together.