Google is reportedly set on being your next wireless carrier, but don’t think that it will be the only tech company to offer mobile phone services. Comcast and WhatsApp may get in the game as well, though in very distinct ways.
Comcast the Carrier: Beginning with Comcast, The Information reports that it is considering offering a mobile phone service to customers. Much like Google’s reported service, Comcast’s would primarily rely on Wi-Fi from wireless routers and public hotspots. However, Comcast would also lease spectrum from other carriers in order to have a foothold in rural areas, effectively turning the cable and terrestrial Internet provider into an MVNO, or Mobile Virtual Network Operator — a company that rents airspace from a larger carrier and resells it. Comcast’s strategy is similar to Republic Wireless in that it also uses Wi-Fi and cellular data as part of its wireless network.
WhatsApp and SIM cards: WhatsApp, meanwhile, went in a more concrete direction. WhatsApp teamed up with German wireless carrier E-Plus to offer a pre-paid SIM card that gives you unlimited WhatsApp messages without using the data network. The €10 ($14) SIM card gives you 600 credits that can be used interchangeably for 1MB of data, 1 minute of a phone call, or 1 SMS text message. Each costs 1 credit. Even if you have no credit left, you can still send WhatsApp messages as you see fit.
According to WhatsApp head of business development Neeraj Arora, this deal effectively makes WhatsApp an MVNO: “This is the first kind of its deal globally between a technology company and a carrier,” said Arora. “Carriers are important strategic partners for WhatsApp and we’re constantly working with them to bring innovative offerings to users globally.”
Whether Facebook purchased WhatsApp for this purpose is not clear, but with WhatsApp enabling voice services pretty soon, it’s not a stretch to think that Facebook could use WhatsApp as a way to offer a cheap service that includes voice, text, and data. As for Comcast’s rumored service, there’s no timetable when, or if, we’ll see it go live, though given its recent filing of its merger with Time Warner Cable, it seems pretty busy right now.