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Microsoft's new JV with Qualcomm aims to extend Windows networks via wireless

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Microsoft and Qualcomm yesterday announced the formation of a joint venture wireless data company, WirelessKnowledge, but the pair steered clear of a direct assault on the rival Symbian alliance - WirelessKnowledge's business plan seems to be a lot more like Microsoft's networking strategy than that of a pocket device manufacturer. The company intends to offer end-to-end wireless services to businesses, using wireless infrastructure to extend the reach of corporate networking systems out to mobile users. The transportation is not, they claim, important -- the company will produce systems for CDMA, TDMA, GSM and whatever G3 systems appear. It will also support a variety of client devices, smartphones, CE devices, and mobile computers, and it is claimed to be based on open industry standard. That however is something of a movable feast. The architecture will be based, the company says, "on industry-standard te hnologies including the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, the Microsoft BackOffice family and Microsoft Commercial Internet System (MCIS). What we're therefore talking about, from Microsoft's point of view, is a rollout of the Windows networking strategy into the mobile device and cellular market. The system will require NT servers, Exchange Server for the email and contact book systems, and the ability of devices to use it will depend on the production of appropriate client software. There is as yet no indication of whether WirelessKnowledge will produce, say, clients for Symbian or not, but this is at least doubtful. It wouldn't be an obvious priority unless there was a clear Symbian rival (although a recent Oracle-Symbian deal may produce just that), and actually, the Symbian phone companies are quite likely to withhold the necessary data for client production. The gap in the market this would create may give Qualcomm a leg-up and, despite the claim that we're being transport-neutral here, boost CDMA. WirelessKnowledge will be rolling its systems out in the US first (early next year), and we can expect all the bits to be in place earlier for CDMA, with Qualcomm handset units being used for it, and maybe CE getting leveraged into some handset manufacturers it hasn't got to yet. The puzzle for the Symbian mob will be to figure out whether this is going to work or not. If it starts to gain momentum next year, then Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson will have to consider either pulling forward their own plans (they haven't so far seen a need to roll before late 99), or putting some work into making their designs work with WirelessKnowledge. The new venture certainly seems to have some momentum, having already signed up AirTouch Communications, AT&T Wireless Services, Bell Atlantic Mobile, Bell Mobility (Canada), BellSouth, GTE Wireless, Leap Wireless International, Sprint PCS and US West Wireless for its services. That'll be a immediate worry for Motorola, as this is happening on its home (somewhat scuffed) turf, but Nokia and Ericsson have been making massive efforts in the US, and certainly don't want it escaping. ®

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