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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE) may buy small U.S. mobile service providers as well as wireless airwaves expected to be sold in government auctions as it plans to invest to beef up the network of its U.S. venture T-Mobile USA, a top executive said on Wednesday.

Deutsche Telekom has said recently that it plans to keep T-Mobile USA after speculation that it would sell the business, which is a distant No. 4 in the competitive U.S. market, where its nearest rival is about twice as big.

Deutsche Telekom also committed to investing heavily in T-Mobile USA's network as the unit is far behind its rivals in developing high-speed wireless services, partly due to a lack of enough airwaves or spectrum to build such services.

The company has already said it expects to bid for spectrum in government auctions but it would also look at buying smaller rivals, according to Thomas Winkler, the chief financial officer of T-Mobile International, of which T-Mobile USA is a part.

"It's just a question of mathematics to figure out this, but it will be a combination of both," said Winkler at UBS Global Communications Conference here in New York in response to a question about whether acquisitions could make more sense than bidding in competitive spectrum auctions.

While many of the large national U.S. operators have already clubbed together with their own consolidation, smaller rural operators could be an option.

For example, one small rival Centennial Communications Corp. (Nasdaq:CYCL - news), a regional wireless company with subscribers in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States, recently hired investment banks to evaluate strategic alternatives.

Other independent U.S. wireless firms include Dobson Communications Corp. (NasdaqCEL - news).

Winkler would not comment on how much the company expects to spend to fortify its U.S. operations.

"We don't want to show our cards," he said on the sidelines of the conference.