Earthlink says it wants to get out of the municipal WiFi business. Are executives really grooming the company to be sold?
CEO Rolla Huff joined in June, and he recently brought on Joe Wetzel as COO. Huff and Wetzel are the team that sold Mpower Communications, a regional provider of broadband data and voice services to business customers. Maybe they’ll shop the company around as soon as they cut the fat.
There might be one very easy mark: Google.
A combined company — call it GoogleLink, just for fun — could help the search giant extend its advertising into the mobile space with less muss and fuss than trying to build such a service from the ground up.
Google has made it clear it intends to become a wireless player, and its pockets are plenty deep. In a July 20 open letter to the FCC, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said he intended to bid a minimum of $4.6 billion in the upcoming 700 MHz auction.
The company hasn’t revealed how it intends to participate in the wireless telecom industry; it already offers mobile data services to consumers on some of the major wireless networks. But a Google-centric, internet-connected phone would be a fine extension of its ad platform.
Ad agencies say 2007 was the year mobile advertising took off; they’re placing substantial ad campaigns for major advertisers. The action to date is mostly on SMS, a place where Google’s text ads fit right in. Google has its video ad program up and running in time for video phones to penetrate the U.S. market.
Earthlink has some interesting pieces of the mobile dataphone puzzle that could be useful to Google. It already offers a VoIP/Internet bundle: EarthLink DSL & Home Phone Service. Meanwhile, Helio, the cool but money-bleeding mobile device joint venture with SK Telecom, experimented with Helio Hybrid Connector, a software/service combination that let laptop users hop onto WiFi or EVDO data networks.
But maybe most important is Earthlink’s sales and customer service infrastructure. Providing mobile phone service is a customer-service intensive business, and you also need industrial-strength tech support. Google has nothing like this for consumers, and its infrastructure for advertisers is based on self service and forums.
Google, with its superb name recognition and customer satisfaction, would be in a good position to not only carry Earthlink’s current subscribers, but also to use the ISP’s customer service and sales infrastructure as the basis for a Google-ized version that could marry broadband, Gmail, Google Talk, search and advertising. It certainly has the wherewithal to build this from scratch, but taking over Earthlink’s operation and tweaking its billing infrastructure to also keep track of views of mobile and WiFi ads could be slick. At the same time, Earthlink’s one bright spot, its business services division, dovetails well with Google’s enterprise offerings, from the Google Search Appliance to Apps for Your Domain.
For PPC marketers, a GoogleLink phone would open the wonders of keyword marketing to a whole new audience, and it would open Google’s coffers to a whole new revenue stream.