Nokia joins rivals for wireless gaming standard

Nokia Corp. has joined L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co., Motorola Inc. and Siemens Information and Communication Mobile Group in an effort to develop a wireless gaming standard. On Tuesday, the companies announced the establishment of the Mobile Games Interoperability (MGI) Forum, which is an extension of a similar effort, the Universal Mobile Games Platform (UMGP) initiative, unveiled by Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens in March.

Wireless gaming is going to be an important source of future revenue for operators of 3G (third-generation) mobile networks, according to Bertrand Bidaud, director of research at Gartner Inc. in Singapore. Many mobile operators are wary of the high infrastructure costs associated with offering 3G services, and equipment manufacturers have been looking for ways to spur carriers to move forward with their 3G plans. Mobile gaming is one application that can help move operators towards deploying 3G networks, he said.

"Gaming is going to be one of the main revenue generators (for 3G operators) in the short term," Bidaud said.

"The first market (for 3G services) to take off is going to be the consumer market," he said. "This first wave is made up of early adopters who are people with a very specific profile. For them, technology is about having fun."

Like the UMGP initiative, the MGI Forum is working with software tools developer Metrowerks Inc., a subsidiary of Motorola, to create a set of common APIs (application programming interfaces) and a software development kit (SDK) that will allow developers to produce games that are compatible with wireless networks and handsets from all four companies. The MGI Forum is also looking at ways to provide certification for games based on its standards, the companies said in a statement.

While the UMGP initiative initially promised that the APIs and the SDK would be available for game developers during the third quarter of this year, the release date has been pushed back, according to Ericsson spokeswoman Caroline Ohlson.

"They have said they (the APIs and the SDK) will probably be ready in the first quarter of 2002 instead," Ohlson said. "The scope of the initiative is much more focused and for this reason they (the APIs and the SDK) need more additional work."

One mobile operator that has been pushing the development of mobile gaming is Tokyo-based NTT DoCoMo Corp., which has partnered with Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and six other mobile operators to develop mobile gaming services using technology derived from SCEI's PlayStation 2 game console. The other partners in the project, for which details have remained scarce, are Taiwan's KG Telecommunications Co. Ltd., AT&T Wireless Group, Hong Kong's Hutchison Telephone Co. Ltd., Hutchison 3G UK Ltd., Dutch carrier KPN Mobile N.V., and Telecom Italia Mobile SpA.

DoCoMo, which currently offers several Java-based games to users of its I-mode mobile Internet service, has also entered into an agreement with Sega Corp. to look at ways to link I-mode phones with Sega's video arcade game machines.

Microsoft Corp. has developed a smart phone platform code-named Stinger, based on its Windows CE 3.0 operating system. Windows CE incorporates many of the same APIs used in desktop versions of the Windows operating system as well as Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Xbox game console. These would likely compete with APIs under development by the MGI Forum.

Microsoft could be a competitor, but the Redmond, Washington-based software company is currently going after a different market, Bidaud said.

Microsoft is more focused on using Stinger to target corporate users, Bidaud said. That doesn't mean Microsoft will ignore demand for consumer services, though. "There's no reason to think they will give away the consumer market," he said.

For now, competition with Microsoft and its Windows APIs doesn't appear to be a factor for the MGI Forum.

"I don't think we have even discussed competition or see them (Microsoft) as competitors," said Ericsson's Olson.

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