Photograph by Philippe Huguen — AFP/Getty Images
By Benjamin Snyder
March 2, 2015

Google confirmed Monday that it’s moving into the wireless phone business, unveiling an ambitious plan to launch a mobile network using a combination of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots.

Phones on the new network will be able to switch seamlessly between cell towers and Wi-Fi connections, Google SVP Sundar Pichai told an audience at a Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain. Google will rely on existing carriers’ infrastructure for the cellular side of the network, codenamed “Project Nova.”

“We are creating a backbone so we can provide connectivity,” said Pichai at the event. “We will be working with carriers around the world so they can provide services over our backbone.”

Any plan to supplement cellular service with Wi-Fi networks will have to contend with the reality that many Wi-Fi hotspots are private. Google already offers free hotspot access in several cities like New York and San Francisco, but it’s unclear if the company will expand these offerings. One Long Island-based ISP, Cablevision, recently launched a Wi-Fi-only phone plan that relies on the company’s extensive hotspot access rather than a cellular network.

The Project Nova news comes days after Google unveiled plans for a futuristic campus for its employees. Google has also been expanding its role as an Internet Service Provider though its high-speed landline Google Fiber service and with experimental aircraft-based connectivity.

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