Companies unite to develop 3G services

The world’s leading mobile phone manufacturers and operators, led by Finland-based Nokia Corp., plan to jointly develop software for advanced digital services for the mobile Internet, a move seen as an end-run around any move by Microsoft Corp. to dominate a market that has more than 1 billion users globally.

Nokia views development of a secure payments system for mobile network operators as a key goal of the new consortium, which could lead to conflict with the global Mobile Payments Forum formed last week by American Express Co., Japan-based JCB Co., MasterCard International Inc. and Visa International Inc.

“The phone guys are dedicated to [keeping] Microsoft out of the party,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “Is this initiative any good? Well, it would be nice if it had a name, [and] that tells you something about the marketing prowess behind it. It’s too grand to be assured of success. [It’s] not well-structured at this point. But Nokia is behind it, and that is enough.”

Nokia will openly license its crown jewels – source code to control such functions as mobile Web browsing and highly popular Short Messaging Service software – to the still unnamed venture, Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s chairman and CEO, said in a keynote speech at the Comdex/Fall 2001 trade show in Las Vegas. The goal of the consortium is to develop software so any mobile user can tap into an advanced suite of third-generation (3G) mobile software services anywhere in the world. That’s currently impossible due to a hodgepodge of proprietary systems, according to Pertti Korhonen, Nokia’s senior vice-president for mobile software.

Microsoft appeared blindsided by the move toward a global alliance, with executives complaining they hadn’t been invited to join – even though the company has development deals with some of Nokia’s partners, including an agreement to produce a combined Pocket PC and mobile phone for Mm02 in London, the new name for BT Cellnet.

Shortly after the Nokia announcement, Microsoft responded with e-mail to reporters saying, “One interesting thing about the Nokia [announcement] is that it seems to draw a line in the sand to keep the mobile world a separate entity from the wired Internet.” The statement also included an invitation for a briefing.

Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for the Microsoft Mobility Group, said the line in the sand was underscored by the fact that the software powerhouse was “not invited by Nokia” to join the consortium. He said the mobile phone group is developing a “shadow universe” that ignores the work Microsoft has done with its .Net strategy to bring Internet services to any device operating anywhere.

Suwanjindar said .Net is built on “open standards,” adding that if Nokia and its partners want to bring the mobile and Internet worlds together, then “they need to have someone with the Internet expertise.”

Korhonen said the mobile consortium would welcome Microsoft as a partner on one key condition: that it “contribute on an open source-code basis.” Suwanjindar didn’t reply to a query from Computerworld by deadline on whether it would contribute source code. But based on past experience, Korhonen indicated that he didn’t think that would happen.

Besides Nokia’s source-code contribution, the new mobile consortium will build software to deliver 3G mobile services on Java, developed by Sun Microsystems Inc., and a mobile operating system developed by Symbian in London. Symbian is a partnership of handset manufacturers that includes Nokia, Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill., LM Ericsson Telephone Co. in Sweden and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. in Japan.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, Dulaney said, there are “no harsher words” than Java and Symbian.

Korhonen said key mobile software components the consortium plans to work on initially include multimedia messaging, digital rights management for mobile use of music and videos, subscriber authentication – essential for m-commerce – and XHTML for Web browsing. Korhonen declined to put a date on when the standard software would be delivered to its members but said some could be out “in less than a year.”

He called the authentication software “an extremely important part” of the joint development efforts because it could help jump-start m-commerce, which in turn could provide money to help finance the multibillion-dollar cost of 3G licences and network development.

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