Google is looking to increase usage of services, including its Maps application, through an open software alliance that will target carriers and companies such as Microsoft and Palm. ((CBC))

Google Inc. finally announced its intentions for the mobile phone industry Monday with the unveiling of the Open Handset Alliance, a group of manufacturers, technology companiesand wireless carriers that are aiming to free up handsets with free software.

The internet search leader confirmed it is developing a free software package for cellphones that will make it easier for third parties to create mobile applications, which could include websites, games andvideo services.

Google has criticized wireless carriers for keeping a tight grip on what sort of software consumers can put on their phones, holding back the development of the mobile internet. Rumours about what the company would do have been circulating for months.

The Google-led alliance has34 members, including the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless U.S. carriers,Sprint Nextel Corp. and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, respectively. AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., the first-and second-largest U.S.providers respectively, have not yet joined the alliance, nor have any Canadian carriers.

Outside the United States, China Mobile, Telefonica in Spain and Telecom Italia have signed on. The carrier members of the alliance account for nearly 800 million customers.

Major cellphone microchip makers Intel Corp., Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Broadcom Inc. and Nvidia Corp. are part of the group, as well as handset manufacturers Motorola Corp., Samsung Electronics Inc., LG Electronics Inc. and HTC.

"This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world," Googlechief executiveEric Schmidt said in a release. "A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future."

The announcement, he added, "is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks.

"Imagine not one Google phone but a thousand,"Schmidt said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

Google's free software platform, called Android,will target rival systems from Microsoft Corp., Nokia Corp., Palm Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd. A software development kitwill be available from the Open Handset Alliance website next week, and it will allow everyone from large software corporations to individual users at home to create applications for phones.

The difference with Google's software is that it will be free and open, which is the best way to get something adopted by the masses, Schmidt said,

Google won't be making its own branded handsets, as popular speculation suggested, but will instead contribute its Android software to phones made by members of the alliance. The new phones won't hit stores until the second half of 2008.

Schmidt did not rule out the possibility of introducing a Google-branded phone, or gPhone, but would not comment on specifics.

"If you were to build a gPhone, you would build it from this platform," he told reporters.