Google may gain short-term profile by working closely with carriers, but its bigger vision rests on a fully open mobile web, where its services and revenue streams hold pole position.
The search giant has consistently invested in initiatives that should increase availability of cheap, ubiquitous internet access, supporting Wi-Fi metrozones, Clearwire's Wimax build-out and emerging technology start-ups like femtocell specialist Ubiquisys.
Like Intel, it has also shown itself willing to take part in spectrum auctions in pursuit of its goals, and is reported to be interested in the Indian Wimax sale.
Google is not looking to become a conventional operator, but takes an interest in spectrum for two reasons. The first is to pressurize regulators and rival bidders into adopting more open rules, a tactic it used in the US 700MHz auction, where its lobbying helped the imposition of the open access mandate on the national license.
The second is to potentially to create a network for service provider partners offering new-style services. Google's vision includes wholesale super-networks used by a host of providers on an on-demand basis, though Clearwire's multi-MVNO model is as far as this has progressed so far.
In India, Google's interest is in the Wimax spectrum at 2.3GHz rather than the 3G sale, according to reports in India’s Business Standard newspaper.
The 3G frequencies are likely to be snapped up by existing Indian or international operators to support an expansion of conventional businesses and services. But Wimax is expected to be highly disruptive in India, attracting new carriers and revenue models, and supporting expansion of broadband access in a desperately underserved nation.
With very limited fixed access, mobile platforms are likely to lead web uptake and Google aims to be in the forefront of this wave in one of the world's biggest growth markets for its services.
According to press reports, Google could either bid for a national license with an Indian firm or be a technology partner in a joint venture. Under revised Indian rules, a foreign firm can only hold 74% of a license acquirer.
Google would not comment. The Wimax auction will be held shortly after the close of the 3G sale, which is now scheduled to start on January 14 after successive postponements.