The Future of Google (Spoiler: It’s Pretty Bright)

google logoI’ve just finished a piece on Google’s uncertain future. Bit odd, you might think, given it’s one of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies.

Well, the initial brief was based on the web giant missing analyst expectations for Q4 2014. Which it didn’t do by a long way, but there you go. Although it has since bounced back with a storming start to 2015, there’s still enough latitude to ask where the firm might be headed over the next decade. Where are its core strengths, and how it will cope with the slow down in ad spend, increasing competition from the likes of Facebook and the move of more ad dollars into mobile, etc etc.

Google is in a lot of ways a company of two parts: the shiny, innovative, envelope-pushing start up putting huge amounts of cash into cutting edge technology projects that could transform the world in years to come; and the cash-hungry advertising behemoth. The problem it has is that the former relies on revenue from the latter to continue, although this is declining. The key I think will be Google’s ability to pull in more revenue from new streams going forward.

One of these will be video.

“I think for Google YouTube will remain a key strategic play and over the long term a strong source of revenues. YouTube combines two major digital advertising channels into a single location – search and video,” Ovum analyst James McDavid told me.

“Ovum’s forecast data shows that search is still the single largest segment of digital advertising spending but video is the fastest growing. Google having market leading plays in both sectors bodes pretty well for their future.”

Another key area is likely to be mobile, and Android is well placed with a market leading share. Google has a great opportunity to increase sales of services, ads, licenses and devices as well as peeling off a healthy cut of app sales. Only the huge market of China, where Play is locked out, and the potential fragmentation of the OS, threaten it here.

Quocirca founder Clive Longbottom agreed that Android represents Google’s best opportunity platform wise going forward.

“Chromebooks have been a bit of a disaster: a hell of a lot of work is required to make Chrome into an OS that works effectively and brings all the other Google services together in a way that really works,” he told me.

“Android, however, has been a runaway success – it is probably better for Google to concentrate on Android as the OS with a Chrome layer on top in a looser way than it has tried to date.”

I’ve only just had time to scratch the surface here; there’s also a great opportunity in cloud services, IoT and wearables and more for Google. It’ll just be interesting to see how it gets there – and whether any others can realistically challenge the Mountain View giant over such a wide sweep of product and service areas in the future.

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Can fibre-based smart grids provide a solution to our superfast broadband problems?

fibre opticDo you have superfast fibre optic broadband? The answer is probably not, because in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere projects are riven by funding issues, political in-fighting and delays, delays, delays. The answer just might be right in front of our eyes.

Take this new report from Ovum on smart grids. Before you fall asleep, the smart grid pilot project it refers to in China is being undertaken by the SGCC, the largest utility in the world, so plenty of food for thought for utilities globally depending on what happens with it.

The crux of the Ovum piece is that the pilot – if it goes nationwide – is likely to offer a potential windfall of up to $2bn for international fibre infrastructure vendors. Yup, the project is basically running power alongside fibre to kill three birds with one stone – deliver power, run a smart grid (ie collect and monitor smart meters in customer homes) and potentially offer triple play services.

This hasn’t really been done with any great degree of success outside of Japan, where investments were made over a long period of time, report author Julie Kunstler told me. But if it works out in China, the big question is whether it could show US utilities a way forward – yes fibre is pretty costly but apply for a telco license or lease the lines to comms providers and they could fund such an investment.

It’s sorely needed, in the US and elsewhere, to manage that difficult last mile problem. As Kunstler told me, it solves this issue because power companies already shoot their cables right into the customers’ home, and are pretty much ubiquitous to boot.

In the end it’s still very early days, and although a technology supplier in China I spoke to said they were confident of this 80,000 home pilot going nationwide, even then, the unique political and economic conditions in the People’s Republic may make it the only country where such a huge project can work.

As Clive Longbottom of analyst Quocirca told me, “getting Verizon and AT&T to work together is like getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on a new fiscal package”.

This is where China has the edge – a basically homogenous, state-run set up where what the government says goes…a government, by the way, which has seemingly bottomless pockets and huge aspirations  to lead the world in technology deployments, the bigger the better.

In the meantime, the citizens of the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere will continue to suffer from the kind of political indecision and selfish stakeholders which have thus far hampered any kind of coherent national superfast broadband strategy.