Waving network neutrality as its championing cause, Google likes to talk about federated data shuttling from network pipes airwaves to users' computers and mobile phones.
But what does this mean from the consumer standpoint? Google Goggles is a great example of an application that will provide greater value for users with the facilitation of speedier, 4G networks and net neut.
Let me explain why, backing up a bit.
Net neut that way Google sees it -- stopping wireline operators from discriminating against any applications, content and other traffic on the open Internet -- is a big reason why Google bid against Verizon and others for 700 MHz spectrum in 2008.
It's also why Google is testing ultra high-speed broadband networks and why it subsequently partnered with Verizon last August to propose new open access rules to the Federal Communications Commission.
So what are examples of these Web services? YouTube is frequently cited, but Google Goggles is another. That's right, the low-key computer vision-based visual search application Google has been touting the last couple years.
I profiled Goggles last month, suggesting it is a nice window into augmented reality (then Color came along, ha!).
But in the course of my conversation with Goggles Product Manager Shailesh Nalawadi it occurred to me that the 4G LTE network hype I heard from Verizon Wireless and AT&T at the Consumer Electronics Show is justified viewed through the Goggles' lens, no pun intended.
Goggles lets users take pictures of landmarks, wine bottles, book covers and other products from their smartphones.
Goggles has to scan an image in it's entirety -- on a smartphone Goggles looks and operates like any image scanning technology -- think a copy machine, showing a line that moves from one length of the screen to the next.
This takes several seconds. It works fairly well, but as I pointed out to Nalawadi it's sloooowwww, not at all like a typical search on Google.com, which yields sub-second results. Why is this? What is happening here?
Well, it's not really Goggles that is slow. It's our smartphones. That's right. As Nalawadi explained, it takes time for the data to travel across carriers' networks to Google's server banks. Yes, the cloud!
Image recognition processing happens blazingly fast in the cloud, but then the result has to be sent back down to users' phones. That means running the data gauntlet on carriers' 3G networks. In other words, unlike searches on Google.com from users' computers, the Goggles search is not being done locally on the phone.
This is where the extra time comes in. Google is relying on the carriers' to complete what is essentially a data transaction. Nalawadi told me:
"This is why we need 4G. Instead of snap [a picture] and wait, we want to snap and see [ the result]. There are ton of techniques we use to improve speed, but we have to wait for data networks to get faster. Even when [Goggles takes 3 to 5 seconds on a good network connection], in my mind that's too long. Demands are going up. We are getting more and more impatient. Why do I have to wait?"
The same could be said for other Google apps on the mobile front, including, yes, YouTube. Who wants to have a movie flicker and shake because the data packets trip up over 3G when 4G offers a much smoother ride. And if Google ever wants to do online games from its cloud, it should wait until 4G is the majority, not minority cellular option.
If speed is a feature, 4G is a fine facilitator. Goggles screamed on the HTC Thunderbolt 4G phone from Verizon Wireless, which promises data speeds 10 times faster than its preceding 3G network. AT&T's 4G LTE network is a long way off, particularly as it tries to digest T-Mobile for $39 billion.
In the meantime, Nalawadi said Google is working on doing more processing locally, for example some kind of caching, similar to what it has done with Google Maps 5.0 for Android, where it locally caches surroundings from users' neighborhoods to help users navigate.
This is why Google has spent millions lobbying for net neut, and why it is so excited about 4G networks and 4G phones, such as the Thunderbolt.