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MS to develop broadband wireless network?

The mysterious case of the non-existent press release...

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Microsoft has been throwing its weight around in the wireless and cable TV businesses, but if a curious snippet that briefly escaped onto a wire service last week has any substance, the company clearly intends to go a lot further. According to a brief Dow Jones posting early on Friday, "In a press release Thursday [Microsoft] said it plans to develop a high-speed wireless network to play music or videos and display photographs." Fascinating stuff, particularly as Microsoft didn't issue a press release saying this on Thursday. Or even on Wednesday or Friday, come to that. But if Dow Jones reports a Microsoft story that doesn't happen, it's still interesting. The Dow-Wall Street Journal operations have a remarkable facility for obtaining advance press release information from many companies, and their relationship with the printer in Microsoft's press office often looks particularly symbiotic. So it would seem likely that there was a press release, but that for some reason it didn't get issued last week after all. The fact that Dow didn't follow the story up with expanded versions (as it usually does in these cases) lends weight to the theory that MS made a last minute handbrake turn. But why? Well, developing a "high-speed wireless network" from scratch would be fiendishly expensive, and even if Microsoft could afford it, technically the company couldn't go it alone. It already has a joint venture with Qualcomm, Wireless Knowledge, has a vision of "information access any time, anywhere, from any device," and has been buying wireless outfits it deems strategic in the wireless arena. But the component Microsoft doesn't have at the moment is the network itself, and that may be why the press release (if it really was a press release) got pulled (if it really did get pulled). Wireless Knowledge has been stitching up deals with Metricom, which is a possible partner for Microsoft here. Metricom is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and runs a wireless Web service in various parts of the US. It's currently testing 128k systems, so could qualify, and although its reach isn't massive, the network could be expanded, and Paul Allen's large US cable TV interests could be helpful here. Or failing this, there's AT&T, which is already a Microsoft partner in cable, and has extensive US wireless interests. Or Sprint? Or even Vodafone-Airtouch? But the trouble with the cellular outfits is that their broadband roadmaps are longer-range than Microsoft would be likely to want. Something's certainly brewing, so maybe if the Ts & Cs can be thrashed out, we'll see an announcement next week. ®

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