Google and Microsoft on Wednesday launched separate deals with telecoms operators to place their search engines on handsets, extending their fierce competition into the booming mobile internet search market.

Google announced a deal to put its search function on 3mobile’s handsets, in a move that the mobile operator said was a key step to making the internet fully mobile.

Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel, the US carrier, said it would place Microsoft’s search engine on its mobile phones.

Internet groups including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft are racing to form alliances with mobile operators to provide ad-supported services, including internet search, as competition in the traditional internet search market turns white-hot.

The Google deal is expected to be among several partnerships with technology companies unveiled on Thursday by Hutchison Whampoa, owner of the 3mobile phone network.

The Hong Kong-based group regards the partnerships as the most significant development for its third-generation mobile networks since their launch three years ago. The deal will allow 3mobile customers to benefit from direct access to Google search.

“It’s another key step for 3 in delivering a fully mobile internet,” said Christian Salbaing, managing director of European telecommunications at 3 Group. “The mobile internet has now developed to such a degree that we can now leave the ‘walled garden’ behind and let our customers access and enjoy the very best of what the converged internet and media worlds can offer.”

The deal is the latest in a series of deals 3mobile has signed with US internet groups throughout the year. In June, it signed a deal with Yahoo to offer the internet search engine’s popular services such as Messenger. In March, it announced plans to deliver Microsoft’s MSN Messenger service and installed software clients on 3G handsets. And in February it unveiled a deal with Skype to put the internet phone service on mobiles.

In the Microsoft deal, the software maker and Sprint will share the revenue from advertisements placed alongside Windows Live search results and the two companies will work together to introduce new mobile phones services in the future.

■Separately, Google on Wednesday said it planned to hire 500 staff at its European headquarters in Dublin to help meet online advertising demand. The group, which already employs 800 people in the Irish capital, is seeking employees for its software, sales, customer service and finance operations.

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