MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google Inc. plans to bid for wireless spectrum in an upcoming government auction, raising the possibility the Internet's leading search engine will become a wireless service provider.

The Federal Communications Commission is auctioning the 700 megahertz spectrum to increase bandwidth for mobile phone and Internet services. Television stations will be giving up that coveted section of the airwaves — it is extremely powerful, adept at going through walls — when they switch to digital transmission in February 2009.

"Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a statement Friday.

Google will apply to bid for the "C Block" of the spectrum — which carries a reserve price of $4.6 billion — because regulators stipulated that whoever operates it must allow its users to download any software application they want to a mobile device. Google's bid was not unexpected, as it played a leading role in lobbying the FCC to open the spectrum.

"Regardless of how the auction unfolds, we think it's important to put our money where our principles are," wrote Chris Sacca, Google's head of special initiatives, in a company blog.

Mobile phone companies now force subscribers to use proprietary software to operate handsets on their network, but Google has indicated it plans to challenge that business model. The company announced several weeks ago that it will develop software for mobile devices.

On Tuesday, Verizon Wireless announced it would open its network to devices other than the ones it currently supports.

Google plans to file its application to bid on Monday, which is the FCC deadline. The auction begins Jan. 24.

Google stock was up $3.87 at $700.87 in morning trading.