Ericsson, Microsoft detail mobile JV plans

The joint venture company, 70 per cent owned by the telecommunications equipment vendor and 30 per cent by Microsoft, is scheduled to release its first products for mobile phone operators by the end of the year, the two companies said in a statement.

Ericsson Microsoft Mobile Venture has its headquarters in Stockholm, and the company's focus will be on developing products that will allow mobile operators to offer e-mail services to business users as well as consumers, they added.

It will also develop calendaring, to-do lists and other personal information management software, as well as offerings that enable professional users mobile access to corporate data. The products will integrate Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server and Exchange platforms with Ericsson's infrastructure and mobile Internet technologies, the companies said.

In addition to Sweden, the joint company will also set up regional centres around the world, Ericsson and Microsoft said. Ulf Avrin, an Ericsson official, has been appointed president of the company.

The European Commission has said that the formation of the company will not be subject to a merger review filing, according to the statement. Ericsson and Microsoft in December of 1999 announced plans to form a joint company focusing on the mobile Internet as part of a strategic alliance between the two companies. Business users will be the initial target market for wireless e-mail applications, although consumers also are expected to embrace the technology in the future, company officials said in a conference call Monday.

Currently, corporations are the heavy e-mail users, said Lars Boman, vice president and general manager of the Internet Applications unit at Ericsson. Increasingly, however, corporate mobile e-mail services are provided by the service operators, rather than by internal corporate IT departments, he said.

Ericsson predicts that the number of mobile Internet subscribers will reach 1 billion by 2005.

Although corporate users clearly are driving demand, over time consumers are also expected to increase their use of mobile e-mail services, added Paul Gross, senior vice president of the Collaboration and Mobility Group at Microsoft.

Gross noted that the cooperation between Ericsson and Microsoft will be "very complementary" with ongoing development efforts at US-based Wireless Knowledge, a software company founded by Microsoft and Qualcomm. Wireless Knowledge is focused on developing software for use in corporate IT systems, while the Ericsson-Microsoft venture will be targeting service operators, Gross said.

Although advances in network technology, such as the ongoing rollout of GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) will give a further boost to mobile e-mail, the aim of the Ericsson Microsoft Mobile Venture is to provide applications that also can be used by operators on current, second-generation networks, officials said.

Looking forward, Microsoft's Gross also predicted that voice-based e-mail services "shortly" will become a reality for mobile users. Microsoft is readying voice-activated e-mail software that also will allow users to respond to e-mail using voice, said Gross. The software is expected to hit the market "within the next year," he added.

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