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AT&T might sell Android phones, someday

The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T's top wireless executive is leaning toward using Google Android phones.

LAS VEGAS--AT&T's top wireless man told the Wall Street Journal at the CTIA tradeshow here this week that the company is considering using Google's Android handsets.

Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T's wireless unit, told the Journal he has reviewed the technology closely and is "confident it is something we are going to want in our portfolio."

This is good news for Google, which benefits greatly from having as many carriers and handset makers as possible using its new operating system.

When Google announced it was developing the open-source, Linux-based Android platform last year, the company also announced the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of handset makers, carriers and chip designers that will work to implement Android.

Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile signed on as part of the consortium, but AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 and No. 2 operators in the country, had not committed to using Android.

That said, it's not surprising that AT&T has expressed interest in Android. Verizon executives have also said they are looking at Android for their consumer branded phones but, like AT&T, they are not willing to commit to Android. Still, Verizon's newly launched open device program would allow device makers to use Android. My guess is that if a handset maker comes up with a compelling phone that uses Android, Verizon and AT&T will surely offer them on their networks. But for now, it's hard to say what those phones will look like since no manufacturer is actually selling Android handsets yet.

While there's been a lot of hype surrounding Android, the reality is that Android is simply an operating system just like Windows Mobile and Symbian, which are operating systems designed for smartphones. Operators also use dozens of other operating systems on their regular phones. This has turned into a bit of a problem for operators because it's difficult for developers to come up with new applications and services quickly. Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone, the biggest cell phone company in the world, addressed this issue during his keynote at the CTIA show. And he urged the industry to work with fewer operating systems.

Google's Android is one of many Linux-based operating systems designed for mobile phones. But because the software is backed by Google, it might actually have more legs than other versions of the software. Ultimately, Android's success will be determined by what phone manufacturers and application developers do with the software. After all, consumers don't buy operating systems. They buy cool devices that can do really cool things.