Apple is Looking at Becoming a Cellular Service Provider

The iPhone maker is investigating the possibility of selling wireless services directly to customers through arrangements made with mobile carriers.

Apple MVNO provider

Apple is apparently testing the waters to buy cellular phone services directly from major carriers in the United States and Europe so it can then offer mobile services to its own customers without a middleman.

The practice of buying mobile services from large carriers and reselling them is not new, but it would be the first time that Apple did so, according to an Aug. 3 story by The Consumerist. By acquiring and reselling mobile services, Apple would become a so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which would give it a new revenue stream for buyers of its iPhones (pictured), MacBooks, iPads and other mobile devices who would want Apple phone plans, the story reported.

Customers who would sign up with an MVNO account with Apple would no longer have to get such services directly through major carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon.

So far, the system is only being tested and no decisions have been announced about whether it will come to fruition, the story said. Apple did not respond to an eWEEK inquiry seeking comments on the report.

Similarly, Google in April launched its own previously-rumored "Project Fi" cell phone services, which charges smartphone users $20 a month for cellular access, plus data fees of $10 per GB only for the data that is consumed each month, to try a new idea for providing mobile phone services, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Google's wireless service uses network infrastructure from other service providers to provide services to its own customers, according to a recent eWEEK story.

Project Fi will allow users to connect with others wherever they are, no matter what device they are using, whether it is a smartphone, laptop or tablet. The company has forged a partnership with Sprint and T-Mobile to launch the service, which initially will only work with Nexus 6 smartphones. Other devices will be included in the future.

When Project Fi users are not near a WiFi connection, they will be automatically connected to the cellular network of Sprint or T-Mobile. User connections will be transitioned between WiFi and the cellular networks as they move from one network to another.

The $20 a month fee for Project Fi will include unlimited talk, text, WiFi tethering and international coverage in more than 120 countries. Data will be billed at $10 per GB for cellular data in the United States and abroad. If users consume less than full GBs of data, they will get credit on their bill for any part of a GB that was not fully used, according to Google.

The new Google service will start with what Google calls its "Early Access Program," which will invite people to sign up for the service where Google has coverage today. Users who live in the coverage area can sign up to request an invite at

Google's goal in launching the service is apparently not to become a major network operator, but instead to use the network as a base on top of which it will launch other innovative services.

In January, reports had circulated that Google was looking to buy wireless services in bulk from T-Mobile and Sprint, which it would then resell under its own MVNO brand. That would allow Google and others to offer wireless services without having to spend money on building out and maintaining their own network infrastructures. Others offering services under similar MVNO arrangements today include Virgin Mobile, Tracfone Wireless, Straight Talk and Boost Mobile.