In only a few short months, the idea of a Google-owned cell carrier has gone from Android fan fiction to impending reality. Since catching first wind of it, we have honed in on more detail and confirmation. Sundar Pichai's talk at Mobile World Congress left us thinking Nova would be rather small in scale, and now it's starting to become clearer how it will shape up. According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, Nova will launch with a product lineup of one device: the Nexus 6.
While this will come as a surprise to many, in retrospect it makes a great deal of sense. Knowing that Nova will switch between T-Mobile's and Sprint's networks along with a strong reliance on Wi-Fi, Google will need tight control of both hardware and software to ensure a smooth transition into a fairly new way of doing things.
Considering we don't know the specifics of how Google will implement this switching, it's difficult to speculate whether more current-generation devices or past Nexus phones might get added on later. Timely updates may be key, given that Lollipop has added the ability for different apps to prefer different types of networks; for instance, streaming services would need the strongest signal while apps that are light on data can be made to prefer Wi-Fi, even if the signal is weak. Likewise, we will probably see Nova leveraging T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling to improve service in the home and take pressure off sometimes spotty coverage.
Another aspect to consider is that to be compatible with T-Mobile (GSM) and Sprint (CDMA) at every spectrum, the hardware has to support it. The Nexus 6 is one of just a select group of devices that has all of the required antennae in every device sold to do this sort of switching between all types of North American network bands. Still, VoLTE support is not a part of the AOSP ROMs, which could be another holdup.
What is obvious is that Google is not plotting any sort of immediate takeover of mobile service in the USA. If the fact they are going to be an MVNO didn't make it obvious enough, this tentative roll-out with just a single device removes all doubt. If this initial launch works well, though, the industry may want to watch out.
- The Wall Street Journal