Software to the fore on GSM show floor

To judge by the buzz from exhibitors, Giant Software Marketplace might be a more appropriate name for this year’s 3GSM World Congress, taking place in Cannes Feb. 19 to Feb 22. The congress brings together manufacturers, network operators and service providers from all corners of the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) industry.

Exhibitors great and small, from software giant Microsoft Corp. to the two dozen startups exhibiting in the Application Developers Zone, are putting the emphasis not on GSM phones, but on software for services, synchronization and messaging.

Underscoring this point, Motorola Inc. chose to announce its new range of phones a week earlier, at a fashion event in Milan, while Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB has no stand of its own. The company, formed from the mobile phone manufacturing divisions of L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. and Sony Corp., is not planning to make any announcements at the show. “We are being deliberately quiet,” Sony Ericsson Public Relations Manager Peter Bodor said.

Also missing from the show floor is Sendo Holdings PLC, the company which last year displayed a prototype device, the Z100, running Microsoft’s Windows-Powered Smartphone 2002 software (then known by its codename Stinger). At the time, Sendo said it expected the device would be widely available by the end of 2001. However, the Z100 isn’t on the market yet. “We expect the first couple of thousand handsets in March and full rollout in April,” said Sendo spokeswoman Marleen van Lookeren Campagne, adding that the company is busy testing the device on GPRS (general packet radio service) networks.

GPRS is one of the technologies driving interest in software at the show, as it opens the way for mobile phones and other pocket devices to establish always-on connections to the Internet or to corporate databases.

Citrix Systems Inc. isn’t introducing any whiz-bang services or applications with its software: It’s leaving that to others. However, it will be demonstrating software that enables access to existing corporate applications or services over GPRS using devices such as Nokia Corp.’s 9210 phone and ViewSonic Corp.’s ViewPad.

Niragongo Inc.’s Lava Platform 2.0 is a wireless proxy application that aims to provide a consistent presentation format for applications, so that service providers don’t have to worry about the screen formats and interfaces of the many different phones in use. Improvements in Lava 2.0 include a friendlier graphic navigation interface, improved management console, easy integration with new services, and advanced messaging tools, according to a company statement.

Openwave Systems Inc. is expecting instant messaging to be a big traffic generator over GPRS. In addition to building its own Openwave Mobile Instant Messaging software, it is also lending its support to the efforts of groups such as the WAP Forum and to develop standards for instant messaging service interoperability. Last Wednesday, it announced its backing for the Wireless Village instant messaging and presence standard. Openwave will be demonstrating its own software at the show.

Logica PLC will be showing its Multimedia Messaging Service for corporate users. The company has been exploring business applications for audio and video downloads using a BlackBerry Wireless Handheld from Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) and RIM’s Java Software Developers Kit for the GPRS version of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail system.

Upaid Systems Ltd. sees more profit in … making a profit. All these services will have to be paid for somehow, it reasons, so it has developed a billing system that network operators and content providers can use for real-time rating of transactions over GSM and GPRS networks.

Starfish Software Inc. can be found on the stand of its parent company, Motorola Inc., where it will be demonstrating synchronization of data on an iPaq Pocket PC from Compaq Computer Corp. over the air using a Motorola GPRS mobile phone to its Java-based TrueSync Synchronization Server. It will also be developing its remote device management software for Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform, allowing systems managers to remotely reconfigure software on corporate users’ handhelds. Starfish is also developing remote device management software for Palm OS and Symbian OS systems, according to Director of Product Management Diane Law.

Java will pop up in a number of places at the show, not least on the stand of Sun Microsystems Inc., where Java Wireless Group Manager Eric Chu says the big story is Sun’s end-to-end delivery of Java applications, from the server to the mobile device.

Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped about its plans for the show until Tuesday, when it says it will reveal new partnerships with telecommunication operators, and will demonstrate new hardware that can run its software “any time and any place.”

Ben Waldman, vice president of the company’s mobile devices division, will be taking to the stage on Friday to deliver a keynote speech on developing wireless devices.

It’s a fair bet that Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) will be one of the companies behind the new hardware that Microsoft plans to demonstrate. HP will announce an extension to its Jornada PDA (personal digital assistant) range at the show. A news conference to unveil the HP Jornada 928 WDA is scheduled for Tuesday. HP will also be showing its MicroChaiVM, a Java virtual machine with support for Java’s MIDP (Mobile Information Device Profile).

With additional reporting by Joris Evers in Amsterdam.

The 3GSM World Congress, at the Palais des Congr