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MS and BT team to launch global wireless Web service

And in this case, MS is David, not Goliath

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Microsoft may be a lot closer to carving itself a share of the mobile phone market than it looks. Today British Telecom announced that the two companies would be starting a trial of wireless Internet services with a view to kicking off a live service early next year. The service is being pitched at corporate customers initially, and four - the BBC, Credit Suisse First Boston, KPMG and Nortel Networks - are taking part in the trials. These will "test the ability to send and receive email as well as access their Microsoft Exchange-based calendaring, address list, personalised web content and online information services from their mobile phones, over established radio interfaces." The system will clearly support Microsoft's strategy of getting BackOffice and its server products established as the standard in the cellular industry, but despite the support of BT, it's still a bit of a punt. The handset equipment for the trials is coming from two companies, Samsung and France's Sagem. Samsung has designs on the Nokia Communicator-type market, although the designs it's shown have tended to be somewhat trailing edge compared to the more svelte Nokia ones. Samsung also has the problem of a serious CDMA commitment (like Korea as a whole), but it does make GSM products too. Sagem is a GSM manufacturer, with deals with France Telecom and a recent one with Vodafone, but like Samsung it's by no means a top tier mobile phone outfit. We can't help noticing a recent innovation, a Sagem combo GSM phone and FM radio, but more seriously, in May the company signed a deal with Microsoft to develop CE-based GSM Internet access handsets. These were to be GSM 900, DCS 1800 and PCS 1900, so we can presume it's more or less ready to roll with worldphone type devices based on the three GSM variants. To be fair Sagem's mobile phone activities are also only the tip of the iceberg. The company produces all sorts of terminals, defence and automotive equipment, so we could maybe see the MS JV coming with added appliance capabilities. Presuming Sagem does the GSM end of the deal, that probably leaves Samsung with the fuzzy end of the lollipop, CDMA. Still, it's big in Korea. Just successfully completing trials and getting the service on the market however won't mean automatic success. As we've noted, neither of the manufacturers involved is top tier, so we can anticipate a curious parallel universe (i.e., the mobile phone market) where Microsoft's Windows everywhere strategy is turned against it. The client will be driving, and in this case the big-selling clients will be from Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola, all of whom support Symbian, not CE. And these companies have their own ideas about what goes at the server side. Curiously, although Wirelessknowledge, the MS-Qualcomm joint venture company, is supposed to be working in pretty much the area covered by the current trials, it's not involved. Even more curiously, we note that Qualcomm last month launched a family of ARM-based semiconductor products for smart phones and communicators which supported both CE and Symbian. Redmond may take a dim view of that. ®

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