Why is Google launching its own cell phone plans?

The Information is reporting Google will launch its own wireless plans:

'Google plans to shake up the U.S. wireless market by selling voice plans to consumers, through expected deals with T-Mobile and Sprint. It’s the latest example of how Google tries to prod incumbents to change their business to benefit Google.'

Pricing or other details aren't available at this time. If accurate, Google will be what is called an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), meaning they will lease bandwidth from other companies and won't actually own any wireless spectrum or cell towers. MVNOs have a mixed track record in the US with many high profile failures such as Amp'd Mobile and ESPN MVP. More recently, several carriers have acquired or started MVNOs to serve as their low-price prepaid option (Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile are owned by Sprint, T-Mobile bought MetroPCS, AT&T bought Cricket and merged with its Aio subsidiary).

Google's goal has long been to get as many people online as possible so that they can make money from their ubiquitous web services. I believe they are now applying the same reasoning to wireless plans. They can use an MVNO to promote new pricing of wireless plans that better matches modern smartphone usage (light on voice and heavy on high-speed data). They could also use this initiative to offload traffic to wifi whenever possible to keep data usage down and plans priced more reasonably. Another more extreme possibility would be to get rid of voice and texting altogether and rely on Hangouts for messaging and VoIP calls.

I doubt Google has ambitions of becoming a wireless operator, but they could use an MVNO to influence the wireless carriers to their advantage, just as they have done with Google Fiber to improve broadband speeds. If it works I won't mind having a lower wireless bill that better matches my usage.

Google Voice integrated into Hangouts on Android - kind of

From Android Central:

"First, you're going to need the new Version 2.3 of Google Hangouts, which is rolling out this week in its slow, safe, rollout fashion. You're also going to need to opt in to "migrate" Google Voice over to Hangouts... And to make phone calls through your Google Voice number, you're going to need the new Hangouts Dialer app, which also requires that new v2.3 of the Hangouts app. Things get a little funny here, because once the dialer is installed and you open Hangouts or open Hangouts Dialer, they look and function exactly the same. So pick either one you want on a home screen. Doesn't matter which."

What a mess, this doesn't make me regret ditching Google Voice one bit.  At least Google's actually making changes rather than neglecting Voice entirely.