Analyst: Google Not Serious About Spectrum Auction - InformationWeek

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1/18/2008
04:03 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Analyst: Google Not Serious About Spectrum Auction

An analyst over at Sanford Bernstein says Google will bid in next week's FCC 700 MHz spectrum auction, but doesn't intend to actually win any spectrum. Why? It already got what it wanted.

An analyst over at Sanford Bernstein says Google will bid in next week's FCC 700 MHz spectrum auction, but doesn't intend to actually win any spectrum. Why? It already got what it wanted.MocoNews.net is reporting that Sanford Bernstein analyst Jeff Lindsay thinks Google could bid to win in the spectrum auction, but will much more likely bid to lose. The biggest reasons are that it already influenced the market into adopting more open policies, and something else about a $35 billion commitment.

In order to win any spectrum, Google will have to bid a minimum of $4.6 billion, and possibly up to $10 billion, as Lindsay surmises. Then, Google would have to shell out upwards of $5 billion per year for five years to build and maintain any sort of wireless network. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

-- Ultimately, Lindsay's view is that Google is still probably bidding to lose. The company obviously wouldn't have such a robust role in the wireless market, but considering its other efforts to push the industry, it's still going to be playing in some way. And this option is far less risky, both from a strategic and financial question.

-- And these risks are pretty significant. The market's view of the company would probably change considerably if management had to start addressing the issues that wireless and cable operators have to deal with or if the company's earnings weren't discussed as cash earnings, but in terms of OCF or EBITDA. And although the report doesn't really address this, such an initiative would require a lot of demands on management in an area that's not their expertise, potentially distracting them from the core business. Even if you can do the math on a spreadsheet to justify an entry into wireless, actually buying and utilizing spectrum looks dicey.

I find it hard to disagree with Lindsay's assessment. Google would certainly be taking a much bigger step into unknown waters. Its managers would have to take on new roles and it would have to answer to the FCC and other government bodies that it hasn't had to deal with regularly in the past.

As besides, it has already achieved what it set out to do: change the minds of the incumbent wireless players. Verizon Wireless has changed its policies and said that going forward it will allow any device and any application to access its network. AT&T followed up Verizon's announcement quickly by pointing out that its network is already open.

And Google has the Open Handset Alliance and Android to worry about. For Google to tackle the hardware, software, and networking all at once could be more than it can handle.

So what will Google actually do next week? Will it put its money where its mouth has been the past six months and pony up the cash to win and become some sort of network operator? Or will it offer up bids that are sure to lose?

Only time will tell.

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