Microsoft sitting out wireless auction

Microsoft will not participate in an upcoming US mobile phone airwave auction despite speculation that Google is planning to bid at least $4.6 billion on the wireless spectrum.

Microsoft sitting out wireless auction

Speaking at the CTIA wireless conference in San Francisco, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said the company was not interested in the auction for the 700MHz spectrum band as it would not advance the company’s strategy to sell mobile phone software to handset makers.

“What would it buy us to buy a piece of spectrum, one piece of spectrum in one country,” he told delegates. “It would do a lot to alienate the telecom industry.”

Ballmer did not address Google directly, but said Microsoft’s expertise is not in setting up wireless networks.

“Nobody knows what will happen out of some of our competitors because they are rumored to be doing a lot of things so we will have to wait and see,” he said.

The airwaves to be sold in the 700MHz band are considered prime US wireless property because they can travel long distances and penetrate thick walls. The spectrum will be freed up once broadcast television networks switch to digital from analog in 2009.

Google surprised the telecommunications industry earlier this year by announcing it planned to take part in the auctions for wireless broadband networks, bidding against established wireless carriers if the auction met certain requirements. It vowed, at that time, to spend at least $4.6 billion on the wireless spectrum if those conditions were met.

One requirement sought by Google and other internet companies and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission was that part of the spectrum be opened up to allow any mobile device, software or web service to run on the new networks.

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