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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google Inc said it will hold a briefing about its smartphone business at its headquarters next week as rumors continue to swirl that the Internet search giant is preparing to sell a Google-branded device.

The company emailed invitations to the January 5 event, which it described only as "an Android press gathering," to the media on Tuesday.

Google’s free Android software is currently used as the operating system on more than a dozen smartphones from vendors including Motorola Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

Android phones, which can browse the Internet and play video games, compete with Apple Inc’s iPhone and other smartphones.

Earlier this month, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Google would begin selling its own phone on January 5. The source said the phone would be available for purchase from Google with a contract from Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA, or in unlocked mode, in which consumers could use the device with a carrier of their choice.

The Android event will take place the same week as the high-profile Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where tech companies from Microsoft Corp to Sony Corp will be unveiling their latest products for 2010. Press conferences start on January 6 and the show begins on January 7.

According to the Google invitation, the company will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. in California on January 5, with "demonstrations" scheduled between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to give more details.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco and Nicola Leske in Frankfurt; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)