Mixed wireless signals out of Google

December 3, 2007: 5:07 PM ET

By Stephanie Mehta 

In case you missed it, today marks the deadline for submitting paperwork to the Federal Communications Commission for bidding in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction. Search-engine giant Google (GOOG) says it will participate, and analysts expect competing bids from Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture of Verizon (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD) -- and AT&T (T).

Google certainly has the financial firepower to make a winning bid. (The FCC essentially has set opening bids for the "C" block of licenses at $4.6 billion) But is Google in this auction to make a point, or is the company in it to win it?

We're certainly seeing some strange body language out of Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. On the one hand, you've got Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google, blogging last week that "regardless of which bidders ultimately win the auction, consumers will be the real winners..." Not exactly the posturing of a company that plans to do whatever it takes to grab the spectrum. Lynette Luna at Fierce Broadband Wireless predicts the wireless incumbents will prevail in the upcoming 700 MHz bidding.

And yet Google certainly has been ramping up its activities in the wireless arena lately, with its Open Handset Alliance and new location-based, GPS-like application for cell phone users.

Phil Asmundson, who heads up Deloitte & Touche's technology, media and entertainment group,  is among those who think Google is playing for keeps. Sure, Google isn't a phone company today, but, he says, Google owns "more dark fiber than any one else in the U.S." (Dark fiber is fiberoptic cable that has been installed, but has not been "lit" with the necessary telecom equipment to transmit data and calls.) Asmundson adds: "It has a network that could lit relatively easily, and become a telecom company overnight."

"I do think if you are an established player, you have to take Google seriously."

Techland readers, what do you think: Is Google bidding in the upcoming spectrum auction with the ambition of becoming an alternative wireless operator, or has it already "won" by forcing the bidders to adhere to certain "open access" conditions, and by getting companies such as Verizon to announce plans to open its network to unlocked wireless devices?

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About This Author
Stephanie Mehta
Stephanie Mehta
Deputy Managing Editor , Fortune

Stephanie N. Mehta is the deputy managing editor at Fortune, overseeing technology coverage for Fortune. She also is a co-chair of the annual Brainstorm Tech conference, an annual gathering of tech and media thinkers. Previously, Mehta spent seven years as a tech writer at Fortune covering the telecom and media industries. She also has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

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