SCOTT JAGOW: Today, the government starts auctioning off parts of the radio spectrum. These are the public airwaves. That's how you can hear me right now. And how you get your Internet in the coffee shop or talk to a friend on the cell phone. But this invisible spectrum is getting so overloaded, companies are craving more of it. Janet Babin reports.

JANET BABIN: The FCC hopes companies will use the new airwave space for advanced mobile services, like super-fast Internet access, and checking e-mail on your cell phone.

Attorney Rudy Baca is with telecom law firm Rini Coran.

RUDY BACA: "It's not going to bring lower prices to consumers but it is going to bring higher quality."

Like fewer dropped or blocked calls. Cell phone company T-Mobile desperately needs the added space in order to compete with other providers and is expected to bid high.

But Baca says the cell phone companies could face a bidding war from firms not associated with cell phones.

BACA:"We're seeing potential new competitors for voice and data services, the cable companies and the direct broadcast satellite companies are also involved in this auction so they're test bidding it."

168 companies are competing for more than 1,100 licenses good for 15 years.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.