Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Limitless Reach?

Interesting rumour today: Google is looking to acquire Sirius, the satellite radio company, if the propsed merger between Sirius and XM doesn't come off.

Yes, there's the obvious aspect to this, namely providing another channel for the Google-takes-over-world-of-advertising play by allowing them to beam directly into you cars, home and ears even when not logged-on, but it also seems that the satellites that would come along with the deal have other capabilities that they could utilise.

At any given time, there are two Sirius satellites covering the U.S. out of the three that sit in varying elliptical orbits around the earth, and in contrast to XM Radio who went the geo-stationary approach. In addition to hundreds of potential radio channels, these satellites themselves can also stream TV programs and other digital content. However, what I hadn't realised was that they are also set up for two-way communications, pushing and pulling data from terminal devices.

Satellite-based internet access is already available in the US, as pioneered by Hughes, and if you line in an area where it's an option between that or dial-up then even the slow up-link speeds and painful latency times that go with a signal round-trip of 20,000 miles or so suddenly become bearable.

How, then, might Google leverage such a service? The story referenced above indicates that providing an internet connection to your car is definitely one option and doubtless there are many others you could think of too: mobile hand-held device that streams any kind of digital content plus it has an always-on internet connection for free, anyone?

But before we get too seduced by what's possible, let's look at the alternatives. 3G is already active in Europe and APAC providing ample bandwidth for data as well as voice traffic. Cars are already equipped with the means to manage those communications channels and it's only a matter of time before we see the first internet-enabled cars hitting the showrooms. The data rates, responsiveness etc. of those connections would be light years ahead of what the satellite-based approach could offer, with the sole exception of areas that have no cell coverage: an issue in Nevada, for example, less so in places where there are actually people with money to buy shiny new cars every couple of years, which is what's relevant here after all.

Adding it all up, it's a fun rumour and really does highlight the prevailing view that Google can pretty much do anything it damn well pleases right now. Stranger things have indeed happened - just look at the two satellite phone systems launched in the late 90s, Iridium and the other one, for example - and it's undeniable that Google has the financial clout and muscle to do it. However, I'm not convinced and I don't think it's real. But it could be ...

1 comment:

I said...

Here's another one.....Nokia buys NavTeq for $8bn! Thats alotta maps your buying for $8bn!

You gotta love the crazy Finns.