Imagine the world a year from now-August 2012-and the attempt by AT&T to buy T-Mobile is clearly doomed. The FCC still hasn’t decided toapprove the license transfer, the DOJ is still askingdifficult antitrust questions, lawsuit after lawsuit is piling up, and AT&T shareholders are getting restless. T-Mobile, meanwhile is still hanging in there in merger purgatory. Even AT&T’s lust to bring back Ma Bell is starting to wear thin. Obviously, something has got to give.
Admittedly, the scenario above is pure speculation. It’s possible, if highly unlikely, that the merger will sail through the regulators without a hitch and AT&T will be on its way to resurrecting Ma Bell as a wireless monopoly in at least some portions of the U.S.
But that pretty obviously isn’t going to happen. The obstacles that stand in AT&T’s way are growing. The groups supporting the merger are dropping by the wayside one by one. AT&T’s other supporters are already starting to show a lot less ardor. By this time next year, T-Mobile could very possibly need a savior. Google is in the right place at the right time to be the company that saves T-Mobile.
So what’s in it for Google? In short, it has the opportunity to become the world’s first totally integrated information company. Google already controls the biggest trove of information in a single place. It has one means of delivery through Android, another through Chrome and another means of integration through Google Apps. With theacquisition of Motorola, it will have the means to deliver information nearly anywhere. Buying T-Mobile would then be the final step to controlling the means of delivery by controlling the carrier that provides the pipes through which that information is delivered.
In other words, Google could own the whole vertically integrated enchilada, lock, stock and barrel. Google could afford to do this out of cash on hand. Equally important, it’s one of the few companies with enough clout to pull it off. After making all these connections, Google with its access to the world’s information would be tough to outmaneuver. A quiet approach to the board of directors at Deutsche Telekom about how they’ve been waiting over a year for their $39 billion should be enough to start a discussion.
Now that Google has shown that it’s interested in more than just managing information through its purchase of Motorola, the company may well be interested in owning the complete information universe. Google already has a large part of the world’s information somewhere on its servers.
Creating the First Fully Integrated Information Company
That information is indexed and can be served up at any time. Android, Chrome and things such as Google Apps provide a front end for that information by making it accessible, useful and in some cases entertaining. Motorola gives it the mechanism for delivery through its smartphones and tablets. But the missing link is the pathway to information-the communications medium. That’s where T-Mobile comes in.
Google could also bring T-Mobile something it has lacked for years, which is a commitment to invest in growth. T-Mobile may be the smallest of the four major U.S. carriers, but it claims to have the largest national 4G network, and 4G is what Google needs to deliver information efficiently. Furthermore, Google needs that 4G capability, globally, which is why T-Mobile is even more important. T-Mobile devices will work anywhere in the world. This with the synergy created by owning Motorola could easily start Google on the road to true ubiquitous access to information.
I realize that this is starting to sound a little like Isaac Asimov’s Galactic AC and its successors, but the benefits of a single means to access all available knowledge are fairly clear. While Google and cloud computing weren’t exactly what Asimov imagined would happen the last time I talked with him about this (he assumed that individual computers would get larger and larger-the idea of the cloud was beyond the horizon in those days), the functionality is similar.
So would Google buying T-Mobile be the beginning of a global mechanism for delivering any information anywhere? Maybe, but maybe not. For one thing, it’s not clear that anyone is willing to pay for unrestricted access to all information. But in reality, information equates to money, one way or another. If enough people are willing to pay for some level of access to some of the information that’s out there, either through watching advertising or paying subscription fees, then having more of the solution in one place makes access to information more efficient.
Greater efficiency means more reason to ask for information, and that in turns means that there are more ways to make money and more ways to get paid. So if Google owned T-Mobile, then it could get paid for a piece of information, a datum if you will, when it shows the advertisement that accompanies it, paid again when people buy the Motorola device to gather the information and again for the T-Mobile network that transports the information. No matter how you look at it, getting paid three times for a single datum is better than only getting paid once.