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Vodafone recruits IBM, Sun, Psion for mobile Internet

UK wireless giant finally wakes up to Web, apparently...

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Wireless giant Vodafone Airtouch is to kick off a global wireless Internet service from the middle of this year, and has struck alliances with all the usual suspects (bar Microsoft, of course) in order to build what appears to boil down to a globally available portal. Henchpartners involved include IBM, the Sun-Netscape alliance, Palm, Nokia, Ericsson and Psion, and apparently Vodafone intends to operate the service under a new global brand, to be announced. Just as well this - the company tag is bad enough, and if the current hostile bid succeeded, the addition of Mannesmann Mobilfunk would take it well off the edge of your average WAP-enabled handset. IBM, which itself is currently making major efforts in wireless-based pervasive computing, will be handling the design, construction and management of the system, while Sun-Netscape will be providing iPlanet products, including infrastructure and communications products. Sun has also agreed to supply hardware products, Java technology, software, services and support to Vodafone, so there would seem to be a fair bit of scope for overlap in the Sun-Netscape and IBM contributions here. Of the other partners, Psion will be contributing EPOC software, while presumably Nokia and Ericsson will just carry on building and selling WAP phones as normal. In addition, Infospace, Charles Schwab and Travelocity.com/Sabre are in the alliance in the content department. The service will be available throughout the world via Vodafone and Airtouch partners networks, and is intended as a one-stop shop offering news, email, listings information, stock transactions, travel and so on. Observers too ready to go along with the bullish noises Vodafone CEO Chris Gent was making about the move this morning should however beware. Not a lot of people know it, but Vodafone has been offering ISP services to its customers for several years now, and also already runs a portal service called Vodafone Interactive. Not a lot of people, even Vodafone customers, have noticed either of these. Oh, and at time of writing, none of the major mobile data movers and shakers in the Vodafone alliance seemed to have got it together to actually post this hot story on their Web site. Outstanding interactivity skills, guys... ®

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