CTIA - Ballmer: Microsoft won't join US spectrum auction

CEO said he leaves that to the service provider experts

Microsoft won't be participating in the 700 MHz spectrum auction planned by the US Federal Communications Commission for January, CEO Steve Ballmer said this week.

"Microsoft has no plans to participate in the spectrum auction," Ballmer told a crowd at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2007 show in San Francisco. He made the remark in a question-and-answer session at the end of his keynote address announcing the new System Center Mobile Device Manager.

Ballmer said service providers are better equipped than Microsoft to handle spectrum that they have acquired.

"Service providers and the telecom industry have the core competence" to participate in a spectrum auction, he said. They have the expertise to set up networks, invest in research and development, and provide customer service, he added.

"That is a core capability," he said. If Microsoft were to buy "one piece of spectrum in one country, it would do a lot to alienate the telecom industry, and that does not further our goal."

Ballmer spent much of an hourlong keynote describing Microsoft's goals in the mobile market. "Compared to anybody else in the industry, we are trying to provide a critical mass of solutions and innovations," he said. Partnering with service providers will be one of many goals, he said, noting that Sprint Nextel Corp. and AT&T are partners in the newly announced Mobile Management Server initiative.

Unlike other large companies, Ballmer said, Microsoft is trying to address the mobile needs of both businesses and consumers. "Apple is not [business-focused] and IBM is not [consumer-focused]," he said. "We're trying to do both and meet the needs of workstyle and lifestyle. ... We're very persistent."

Apple's work with mobile devices has so far been more closed than what Microsoft envisions, Ballmer said. "Apple has done nice work but is more end-to-end and self-contained, and RIM [Research in Motion, Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry] is similar, but we're trying to be more enabling of other players and service providers," he said.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently said he would open the iPhone to outside developers, but Apple has come under criticism for making the device available only for users on AT&T's EDGE network in the U.S.

In several demonstrations, Ballmer described ways that the new Mobile Device Manager will support corporate IT shops, allowing them to update devices and keep an over-the-air inventory of the various models they use while also allowing them to wipe clean a device that is lost or disable a camera on a phone when desired.

But Ballmer's talk seemed equally devoted to Microsoft's consumer focus on mobile software capabilities, even though the company didn't announce anything new in that arena. In several demonstrations, Ballmer and an assistant were able to show how voice and text commands can quicken an e-mail search or a Web search for a location, such as a restaurant.

A key mobile capability for both consumers and workers will be the ability to connect to PC, he noted, pointing to one application that used a mobile phone to tell a home-based media-enabled PC to record a television show.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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