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When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, Apple had an opportunity to disrupt the entire mobile ecosystem. Instead, they chose to tie the JesusPhone to AT&T, a carrier that is often viewed as more devil than angel.
Now, Google's Nexus One phone promises to do for carrier relationships what the iPhone never did. Unlike the iPhone that debuted at nearly $600 and is now available in refurb trim at $99, Google is coming right out of the gate with a $199/99 price. That means that an unsubsidized phone is within reach of most smartphone consumers and many others who would have been stuck with a traditional phone or a long contract.
But that's not the most revolutionary part. If news reports are to be believed, "Google will push full VOIP usage on these, meaning no voice/sms plans needed at any carrier." Reports also claims that "Voice calls will go through Google Voice on Data SIM cards and will provide unlimited free voice calling. And SMS is replaced by unlimited free Gtalk."
This is a huge shift, and if it's implemented right, could change the landscape of smartphones. It's also a huge risk for Google. Google and AT&T have already found themselves at loggerheads with the FCC over common carrier requirements. Use of VOIP on the Google Phone is certain to inflame the situation further.
This also threatens the cash-cow SMS market if the Google Talk functions implement an SMS gateway and a UI that makes it easy to communicate on both Jabber/XMPP and SMS backbones. SMS is pure profit and the carriers aren't likely to appreciate this encroachment on their most lucrative revenue stream.
But, if Google already has T-Mobile on board with the concept of providing essentially a data-only plan, we could see a big shake-up in the carrier landscape as providers rush to bolster their data pipeline. Is AT&T likely to win that kind of war? I certainly wouldn't put money on it.
I can also envision a "Nexus Two" in the not too distant future that has a modular transceiver allowing it to operate not just on GSM/HSPDA networks but interchangeably on WiFi, WiMax, LTE, and other 4G technologies. At this point, the carrier's signally method makes far less of a difference and the carrier basically becomes a dumb conduit for your IP-based bitstream.
Bonus question: if the Nexus One really does signal a shift to data service as the sole function of a carrier, does that portend a shift to usage-based data billing?