Google will be providing customised search and other tools for the WiMax service WiMax service being built by Sprint Nextel.

The two companies announced an agreement to bring Google services, including search, email, calendar and social networking, to customers of Sprint’s wireless broadband network, planned to launch in early 2008.

Under the deal, Sprint will provide open standard APIs to developers to allow the Internet services to run on a range of WiMax-enabled devices, including notebook computers and phones.

But analysts were quick to point out that the co-operative agreement doesn’t exclude the two companies from competing against each other down the road.

“It’s an absolute no-brainer for Google to increase its presence in the wireless sector by working with as many operators as possible and helping them customise services,” said Andy Buss, principal analyst with Canalys. "But Google is looking to become an operator in its own right."

Buss pointed to Google’s interest in acquiring spectrum in the US.

“It would be good for Google to control its own platform,” he said. “They need to make some risk-sharing investments in the underlying networks to have a say in how they’re architectured and developed.”

In Europe, Buss didn’t rule out the possibility of Google becoming a mobile virtual network operator, piggybacking on existing networks. This approach, he said, would allow the company to establish a “consistent” level of expertise across highly fragmented Europe.