Vendors jockey for wireless position

The moves could help establish which companies will surface as the major players in the wireless Internet market.

Intel rallied a group of nine companies to expand the MDI-ng (Mobile Data Initiative Next Generation), which is intended to accelerate the development and adoption of wireless data technologies. Separately this week, Microsoft revealed the next steps in its wireless partnership with Ericsson, and Compaq and Nokia struck a deal to develop mobile Internet products for enterprises.

Gathering expertise from the telephony, computer hardware, and Internet industries, the MDI-ng plans to work with wireless standards bodies to address issues with the wireless Internet, such as standards compatibility, application scalability between devices, security, and ease of use for business users, according to Intel officials. Member companies include Dell, BT Cellnet, France Telecom, Siemens Mobile, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Sonera, and Toshiba.

The initiative intends primarily to focus on standards such as GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Services), but an Intel spokesman said the company is involved in discussions with several US-based companies to address the same issues with the wireless Internet.

First started in 1996, the MDI-ng originally focused on cellular phone technologies. This latest initiative, an Intel official said, takes the original focus a step further to shepherd the development of third-generation wireless, specifically addressing the issues with wireless packet switched data across a range of devices.

Also moving to spur wireless adoption, Microsoft and Ericsson put a name to and filled out a few details of their joint venture, which was first announced in December. The new company, called Ericsson Microsoft Mobile Venture, will develop mobile e-mail products that are expected to be on the market by the end of the year, according to Microsoft.

"This is a key part of our mobility strategy," said Pat Fox, director of marketing for Microsoft's mobility group. "One of the areas of focus for us is working with mobile operators to develop and deploy data services for their subscribers."

Fox said that Ericsson Microsoft Mobile Venture will integrate Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000 with Ericsson's infrastructure and mobile devices and will target mobile operators and telecommunications companies. The products will include e-mail, calendar, to-do lists, and other personal information management tools.

According to one analyst, the collaboration between the two companies holds great potential, but key information about what the device would be has yet to be divulged.

"It is interesting what they are doing but until Ericsson comes out and says, 'here is the product that allows you to send and receive e-mail,' who really cares?" said Eddie Hold, principal analyst for wireless services at Current Analysis. "The important thing is the end product."

Hold added that both Ericsson and Microsoft need to leverage each other's strengths to succeed in the market for wireless applications.

"Ericsson needs to get a better understanding of the applications that will drive future mobile use, [such as] e-mail and stock trading, which will also drive demand for new handsets," Hold said. "Microsoft has recognised that [computing] is no longer just about the PC, that there is a world beyond the PC that is a huge, huge market. Microsoft needed to get together with a big name such as Ericsson, because they didn't have the expertise in wireless."

Also getting in on the partnership spirit, Compaq and Nokia on Monday announced an alliance to integrate the Compaq ProLiant server running Windows NT with Nokia WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) Server software to create mobility tools for enterprises. The combined product will carry employee productivity applications, including mobile e-mail, contact information, and CRM (customer relationship management) tools, according to Nokia. The companies did not say when the wireless devices would be delivered.

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