Google in search for wireless telecom

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Google is considering a multibillion-dollar bid for parts of the US wireless spectrum, as part of an audacious plan to launch a free internet-on-the-move service nationwide.

The company, which restored its status as a Wall Street darling with above-forecast results yesterday, dropped a strong hint that it would enter the spectrum auction, scheduled for June.

Rumours about Google's intentions have intensified in recent weeks, after it launched a pilot project in its native Palo Alto, California, and won a bid to offer free wireless internet via wi-fi in San Francisco.

Google thinks users will be happy to dial in to an internet service for free, in return for receiving the tailored adverts from which the search engine company generates its revenue.

In answer to a question from an analyst yesterday, Larry Page, Google's co-founder, said: "We have not announced any plans to bid for wireless spectrum, but we are generally interested in improving access to the internet.... We and everybody in the world would be very excited to see internet access that was free and ad-supported."

Industry players have heard rumours that Google, AOL and eBay could team up to bid for some of the 90 megahertz of spectrum reserved for high-speed data services. Owning their own networks would loosen the companies' dependence on telecoms firms, which are threatening to charge them for carrying their data.

Google posted net income of $592m (£333m) for the first three months of 2006, up from $372m in the last quarter. The UK, France and Germany were singled out as having strong growth.