PhotoGoogle made waves a few weeks ago when it revealed it was developing a new wireless network that would lash up Sprint, T-Mobile and thousands of wi-fi routers.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, there is just one little thing: the network will, at least initially, work only on Google's Nexus 6 phones and not on other Android-powered phones.

The new network is expected to launch within the next few weeks but may be delayed if any last-minute glitches pop up, reports say.

Why only the $649 Nexus 6? The simple answer is that what Google is trying to do isn't all that easy. It plans to create a nearly-seamless wireless network using hundreds of thousands of different access points.

This, of course, is what cellular phones already do -- they pick the strongest available signal from their assigned network (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) and the network then manages the calls, handing them off to other towers as needed.

It sounds simple but it's an engineering marvel. What makes it manageable is that calls stay on their respective networks; AT&T only has to manage calls on its network of towers.

Network on the fly

What Google is trying to do is much more complex. It plans to monitor all available spectrum on Sprint, T-Mobile and the millions of routers it has in its database, picking the one that works best every step of the way. In effect, Google will be assembling a unique network for every single call -- a mind-bending undertaking.

Ah, you say, my phone already does that. No, it doesn't. The network does all that. Your phone may use wi-fi to place calls or download data if a known wi-fi network is available when you start the call but if you get in your car and drive away, most phones will drop the call. A few may be smart enough to switch to your network carrier.

But no phone today has the capability of constantly scanning all available networks -- cellular and wi-fi -- and picking the best one, then continuing to scan as you move around and as network congestion causes changes in signal availability. 

While the brains behind this operation will be embedded in the network, the phone will need to supply a constant stream of information to the network about its location and the strength of the signal it's receiving. Google is building this capability into the Nexus 6, which is built by Motorola Mobility, a company Google once owned and still works closely with.

Google is, of course, hoping that its network is so compelling that other manufacturers will modify their phones to get in on the act.

Comcast is said to be developing a wi-fi-only network, already offered by a few smaller operators, but no one else is known to be contemplating anything that approaches the complexity of Google's project.


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