“Say hi to Fi,” wrote Google’s Nick Fox in an ominous April blog post announcing Google Fi, a wireless plan for owners of its Nexus 6 phones that has been described as an “experiment.” One month later, Verizon—the nation’s largest wireless carrier—shelled out $4.4 billion to acquire AOL, including all of its video and ad-tech assets.
Those recent moves signal that Google and Verizon are about to engage in one of the most ferocious duels ever witnessed in business. The two behemoths want to control the way you get Internet access, because that’s the gateway to serving up digital video and mobile advertising. Google, with the combination of Google Fi and the company’s expansion of Fiber, its lightning-fast gigabit home Internet service, aims to pressure Verizon’s high-speed broadband FiOS business. Verizon, with its acquisition of AOL, hopes to usurp Google’s YouTube video hegemony, and elbow its way in front of Google’s mobile OS dominance with Android.
Verizon’s acquisition of AOL pairs its wireless network customer data with AOL’s ad platform and growing library of video—deals have already been inked with CBS, ESPN, and Awesomeness TV—that will let the company display smarter ads while users stream more and more content. “You’ll see us do more of always-on video, streaming 24/7,” AOL CEO Tim Armstrong told Fast Company shortly after announcing the sale. (Translation: Verizon wants more revenue from ads and wireless data.)
Despite Verizon’s growing arsenal and clever strategy, though, it won’t see victory over Google any time soon. Previous “experiments” like Fiber and Chromecast—Google has sold 17 million of the devices, which stream video from web to TV screen—give the ad giant two ways to squeeze or work around Verizon. Fi now gives it a third. All of them together could choke off Verizon’s dream of reaping billions from combining a telecom with an ad-based media business.