CTIA - Ballmer disses Google on wireless plans

Microsoft CEO says company has no plans to compete with carriers

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Tuesday, in a swipe at rival Google, that his company does not have any plans to bid on wireless spectrum in January, because being a wireless carrier goes beyond its core competency.

Ballmer made the comments in a question and answer session that followed his keynote address before the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2007 convention in San Francisco.

"Contrary to our competition, at the end of the day we think we have a core competence and we think the telecom service provider industry has a core competence," Ballmer told Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA - The Wireless Association, which is hosting 15,000 attendees at the event.

It takes considerable expertise and capital to start a network, maintain it and provide customer service to subscribers, Ballmer said, and Microsoft thinks a better course is to partner with service providers to deliver its Microsoft Windows Mobile wireless software platform.

"So what would it do us to own a piece of spectrum? It would probably do a lot to alienate the telecom industry," Ballmer said.

That drew a burst of applause from one person in the front row, Paul Riordan, president and CEO of Cellcom, a small regional wireless provider based in Green Bay, Wisc.

"We're looking for partners who aren't in competition with us, and I think you'll find there is a lot of concern about that," said Riordan, who is also on the CTIA board.

"For Microsoft to say we're going to partner with you, we're not going to compete against you, is a great thing to hear," he said.

The Federal Communications Commission is going to supervise an auction in January of 62MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band. The spectrum is ideal for long-range wireless telephone and broadband services, with signals that travel up to four times farther than in higher-spectrum bands.

Google sent a letter to the FCC chairman in July stating that the company will commit a minimum of US$4.6 billion toward the auction, but only if certain conditions are met. Google spelled out those conditions in an earlier filing with the FCC.

However, beyond that, Google hasn't confirmed publicly that it is going to bid.

The CTIA convention runs through Thursday.

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Robert Mullins

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