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Google's $5B Broadband Bid

Well, well, well. If anyone had any serious doubts about the depth of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s wireless ambitions, you can cast them aside now. The search giant said Friday that it is ready to stump up $4.6 billion to secure its place in the coming 700MHz auction, as long as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agrees to its "open access" conditions.

Of course, the company has been involved in the municipal WiFi game for a while now, but a broadband bid would make Google a serious player in the next generation of wireless broadband services.

This makes sense for Google, of course. People are already using its phones for much more data-intensive activities than they used to. The so-called Wireless Web – promised for so long by carriers worldwide – is becoming a reality with the advent of slicker surfing devices like the iPhone. The arrival of WiMax and other fast technologies will only accelerate (geddit?) people's Internet usage on wireless devices. (See Google Pledges $4.6B for Spectrum.)

I've already speculated on how the 700MHz auctions could see Google getting more heavily into WiMax and wondered whether a hook-up with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) could be in the offing. (See GooMax.)

Now Probe Financial Associates Inc. is suggesting Google could indeed get in bed with Sprint and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) on WiMax. (See Clearwire & Sprint Team on WiMax.)

"Clearwire has now taken a major step towards combining with Sprint's WiMax operation," states Probe prez Victor Schnee. "The parties may also be reaching out to Google as well."

But to focus simply on the technology misses the scope of what Google is doing with the 700MHz auction bid. If the company gets the FCC to accept its open-access conditions, then it will have won even if it doesn't eventually get the spectrum.

Google's open-access proposals aims to make it far easier for users to get on wireless broadband without being tied to a single carrier. They could also set the stage for a bunch of new service providers, since the eventual winner of the spectrum would be able to license it to third parties.

I believe Google, as usual, is betting that this will increase Internet usage overall and – eventually – contribute to its ad revenue bottom line. Along the way, though, it could help to reshape the U.S. wireless industry.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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