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Google Can't Change the Game

Not the wireless one anyway, because the frequency auction won't alter telecom's status quo.

Prediction:

Google

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and the

Federal Communications Commission

will throw a bring-your-own-device party to ring in an era of open wireless standards, but no one will show up.

About 266

would-be bidders have signed up for the FCC's 700-megahertz auction next month. That list will quickly dwindle down to a handful of earnest winners like

AT&T

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,

Verizon

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,

EchoStar

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, maybe Google, and possibly

Qualcomm

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. Those licensees will control some of the best radio waves to come around in decades.

The property is enormous -- it previously handled 18 channels of UHF analog TV broadcasts but was cleared out when broadcasters went digital. And it's also robust: Strong signals on this frequency can penetrate deep inside buildings.

Industry observers see the spectrum as the future of wireless and a gateway to a fourth-generation network technology such as WiMax or LTE, which can deliver broadband speeds to mobile users.

To avoid squandering this huge resource, or more specifically, to prevent this once-in-a-lifetime radio wave opportunity from falling exclusively into the hands of the telcos, Google and others urged regulators to create some guidelines. Promising a minimum bid of $4.6 billion in the 700 MHz auction, Google got the FCC to guarantee that the winner of the licenses must allow devices from other companies to operate on the new networks.

Ideally, any device, even one that is not yet invented, should be allowed to capitalize on some of this wireless data potential.

But here are two signs the open standards movement is off to less than a great start:

First, a month into the Android project -- the Google-sponsored open handset alliance -- software teams are doing far

more grumbling than application development. Apparently, the stack of Linux and Java programs at the core of the new mobile phone operating system is crawling with bugs.

Second, walled-garden keeper Verizon Wireless has

opened a gate of sorts. The wireless phone giant, co-owned by Verizon and

Vodafone

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, countered Android with an any-device invitation. Tellingly, the first outfit in line was

Hop On

, a leader in the portable gambling industry. If nothing else, the legal opportunities should be huge.

To be sure, loosening the telcos' grip on the types of services and devices people can use is long overdue, but there's little to suggest that we may be saying goodbye to the status quo.

"I don't think we will see the sort of results people were expecting," says Roger Entner of IAG Research, referring to the impact of the open standards movement next year.

"It will prove one thing, though," says Entner, "people like cheap phones and they don't mind contracts."