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Google Gearing Up For "Wireless Warfare"

CNBC.com

It's official: after months of speculation and posturing, Googlewill indeed bid for the 700Mhz wireless spectrum coming to auction at the end of January.I have written about this before, suggesting such a bid was likely even though Google didn't get all it was looking for after lobbying the FCC for freer, more open networks. The FCC went far, but not far enough which put Google's bid into question. But no more.

Why tip its hand now? It's clear Verizon's news earlier this week of its plans for an "open access" network likely spurred Google's decision. Or at least contributed to it. It's no secret that Google has had a contentious relationship with the wireless service providers.

And while on its face, Verizon's news seemed good for Google, it was clear by Verizon's comments on its conference call that a friendlier, more fruitful relationship with Google was not necessarily in the cards. So Google will go it alone, and try to control its own network, relying on openness to further its goals.

Some might criticize Google's move as too much of a departure from its native search business. But unlike its foray into clean energy earlier this week, this departure makes enormous sense.

The world is going wireless. Mobile devices are outselling computers by three or four to one. Mobile search shows outstanding promise. Citigroup's Mark Mahaney is out with a note this morning saying this is the right move at the right time, and I couldn't agree more.

So often, those of us following Google clamor for the company to come up with new revenue streams since search itself will ultimately see some kind of slowdown. And when Google finally comes up with one, critics charge that the company is trying to operate way outside its comfort zone. I think those criticisms are myopic, especially in this case.

This is exactly what Google needs to do to expand the reach of its core business. And with the wireless industry desperate for a kind of business-model makeover, Google might be just the company to turn the industry on its ear.

I'm not saying Google is a panacea. Hey, Microsoft had great ideas and then grew into a global, predatory monopolist before Apple , Google and the courts brought the company back in line. Mostly. Competition is good. Google will force change in the wireless world if it wins the auction. That's good for consumers and its shareholders.

But consumers may take a back seat to shareholders if Google is allowed to become the Microsoft of the wireless generation. Something we should all be watching.

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