Could an AT&T-Mobile lead to a Google-Sprint merger?

Google and Sprint could formalize their tight relationship to create a credible force for taking on an expanded AT&T

Amid the buzz generated by AT&T's bid to acquire T-Mobile, there's the question of whether the deal will get necessary approval from the powers that be. Such a merger would, after al, reduce the competitive playing field while theoretically giving the already dominant AT&T a greater advantage over its adversaries.

Two of those challengers, however, may be positioning themselves to take on an even bigger AT&T: Sprint and Google, which are continuing to cozy up to each other. Were the two to advance their relationship and tie the knot -- via partnership, merger, or acquisition -- the resulting force would truly be one to reckon with. The notion of a Google-Sprint marriage is not entirely new; rumors of a pending marriage emerged back in 2007. In 2009, InfoWorld's mobile maven Galen Gruman opined that Google should purchase Sprint. It seemed plausible back then, and it seems even more plausible today.

The most recent example of Google and Sprint buddying up came just today: The duo announced that Sprint has integrated Google Voice, enabling customers to use their existing Sprint mobile phone numbers as their Google Voice numbers. Additionally, the new arrangement results in Google Voice's voicemail replacing Sprint voicemail.

This deal is a striking one and represents a bold move on Sprint's part: For one thing, it signals Sprint's willingness to embrace, or at least support, VoIP, once the bane of phone companies everywhere. Second, it means Sprint is surrendering any profit it reaped from offering voicemail services.

The rub, notably, is that users may not want to use Google's brand of voicemail, but evidently they'll have to get accustomed to the change.

Meanwhile, this arrangement gives Google a new medium -- namely, every Sprint mobile phone -- for enlisting additional Google Apps users. The more users out there familiar and comfortable with Google Apps, the greater Google's chances are of penetrating both the consumer and business market.

This integration of Google Voice is but one example of Sprint and Google's working relationship. The duo also announced a co-developed Android smartphone, the Nexus S 4G, that boasts "tightly integrated hardware and software." According to the announcement, the device, which runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, is primed for Sprint's 4G service.

In short, Google and Sprint are demonstrating a level of synergy that could pave the way for merger. Google has a wealth of apps and services it wants delivered to customers via any and all computing devices, be it to smartphones in the office or to laptops connected to free Wi-Fi at local coffee shops. Sprint, meanwhile, has the tubes and the hardware to deliver the Google goods. Combined, Google expands its reach dramatically while being able to optimize its services over the Sprint network -- a network that could expand significantly with investment from Google's deep pockets.

This story, "Could an AT&T-Mobile lead to a Google-Sprint merger?," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.