Google: You ain't seen nothin' yet

Forget iPhone, BlackBerry, Bell and Telus. Google is preparing to be the next giant of telecommunications

Anyone can get the Web on their cellphone these days. But now it seems Google is interested in so much more than that. It has reportedly approached the Federal Communications Commission recently about obtaining wireless spectrum, the base upon which mobile-phone networks are built, in the U.S. agency's next auction.

Never mind the potential buyout of Bell Canada Inc. or Apple Inc.'s much-hyped introduction of the iPhone yesterday, there's a much larger, game-changing force in telecommunications lurking just around the corner.

Search engine giant Google Inc. has been putting together a massive cable network to provide customers around the world with telecommunications services ranging from broadband Internet to home and mobile phones.

Google has publicly denied plans to get into the lucrative business, valued at US$1.3-trillion globally, but industry experts say it is inevitable. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company already has its toes in it with offerings such as Google Talk and the hugely popular YouTube video service. A major splash is only a matter of time, and when Google -- with its mammoth US$163-billion market capitalization -- does dive in, phone company takeovers and Apple gizmos will look like quaint curiosities.

"It's not an if, it's a when," says California-based technology analyst Rob Enderle. "Different parts of this are coming in at different speeds, but once they're done what they plan to do is offer comprehensive services through their own backbone and effectively lock a lot of the traditional players out of the market. A lot of them don't even see it coming."

Google's plan has been underway for some time and is now gaining momentum. For at least the past three years, the company has been buying up swaths of unused fibre-optic cable -- so-called "dark fibre" -- around the world. Telephone and cable companies overbuilt these lines, which form the basis of the Internet, during the tech boom in the early part of this decade and Google has been only too happy to take the unused infrastructure off their hands.

The company is secretive about exactly how much fibre it owns, saying only that the cables are needed to connect its data and storage facilities, which power its various search and Internet services. Experts, however, estimate the company has far more fibre than it needs for such purposes.

"They have enough potential capacity to compete in wholesale telecommunications or as an Internet service provider," says Eric Schoonover, senior analyst at Washington, D.C.-based TeleGeography Research, a consultancy that tracks fibre holdings.

Google has been equally secretive about the massive data centres it is building around the globe, with one blogger who follows the company quipping that "getting information on these facilities is harder than getting info on Bigfoot."

The company is estimated to have between 40 and 70 data centres filled to the brim with computing and storage power, with at least five new facilities under construction in the United States alone. By comparison, Canada's second-largest telephone company Telus Corp., has eight.
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