WASHINGTON - Google made its first major foray into the wireless industry Monday with an announcement that it would partner with cell phone carriers, makers and software developers to create a new system for mobile phones, a crucial move for Google as it seeks to expand its advertising empire.
Unlike Apple’s iPhone, Google’s project does not involve designing a new device. Instead, it plans to offer a free software system that would make it easier to Web-surf on phones and allow most cell phones to work more like computers.
The system is designed to try to overcome the challenges of navigating the Web on a small device, and to encourage the industry to liberalize what it has allowed customers to do with their phones. A greater audience would mean more potential advertising dollars for companies like Google.
The alliance includes nearly three-dozen companies, including Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Qualcomm and Motorola to design the system, which will be available to software developers next week and to customers using specially equipped cell phones next year. While the 34 partners said they support Google’s software, not all have committed to using it. The final agreements are likely to involve revenue-sharing.
The agreement could signal enormous change for the wireless industry and may have regulatory implications for Google, which has brought its campaign for more accessible cell phones to Washington in recent months. It also spells a strategic shift for carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, which are trying to keep pace with larger rivals as wireless consumers demand increasingly sophisticated services.
Google says its new cell phone technology, Android, is also part of the firm’s attempt to force wireless carriers and cell phone makers to give up some of the control they have wielded over which features and services consumers can access with their cell phones, often at sluggish Web-browsing speeds. Google’s end game is to create a system where cell phone service is subsidized through ads, similar to many Web services.
Google-powered software would loosen those restraints by allowing thousands of companies to develop new services, such as social-networking sites and mobile video portals, without needing permission from carriers — a move that Google’s partners say will accelerate the growth of new mobile features.
Putting Google’s popular search, e-mail and YouTube video applications in front of more cell phone users positions the company to tap into a growing market for mobile advertising.