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Japanese giant NTT DoCoMo, a long standing Microsoft partner in the world of mobile entertainment, is to port Windows Media DRM (digital rights management) to its 3G handsets, allowing for content to be moved between phones and PCs, and bypassing the Open Mobile Alliance DRM.

With Windows Media technologies on all NTT DoCoMo's FOMA 3G handsets – presumably including the non-Windows models – Microsoft gains access to a large customer base, but even more interesting is that the agreement will see the alliance of partners in DoCoMo's i-mode mobile internet platform also looking to build Microsoft DRM into their devices.

This provides an inroad to what could be a huge market. I-Mode carriers have a total of 250m subscribers in 15 countries, and of these, over 50m already use the content and internet platform (45m in Japan).

The i-Mode alliance members are Telefonica/O2 in Spain, the UK and Ireland, Wind in Italy, Cellcom in Israel, MTS in Russia, Cosmote in Greece, Telstra in Australia, Starhub in Singapore, Far EasTone in Taiwan, BASE in Belgium, KPN in the Netherlands, E-Plus in Germany, Bouygues in France and DoCoMo itself. Cingular also offers a variant of i-Mode, called mMode, which it acquired with AT&T Wireless, although these users are not included in the i-Mode total.

Most handset makers are wary of porting Windows Media DRM to any other operating system than Windows Mobile, because it gives Microsoft a platform on their phone architecture, from which it can build out, but operators may see it as a smart move.

NTT points out that by supporting Windows Media Audio and potentially adding VC 1, based on VC 9, the Windows Media bundled codec, it can let phones have direct access to online music and video services, with or without a connection to a PC.

Microsoft's Windows Media Audio and Digital Rights Management 10 software would ship first with DoCoMo's F902iS model, which is scheduled for release this summer, while DoCoMo is evaluating Microsoft's Windows Media Video for future handsets.

It was only last week that we discussed in detail with CoreMedia, a German OMA DRM specialist, how it had been commissioned by Microsoft to offer a gateway between the two DRM formats, OMA for the handset and Windows Media DRM on the PC, and how it might become the de facto gateway for PC to phone and back, for entertainment traffic.

NTT said support for Windows Media technologies means handsets will work with more than 100 online music services worldwide. Microsoft has been keen to license its Windows Media DRM to be licensed on other, non-Microsoft platforms, and it is not yet clear if the implementation will also be offered to other operators.

Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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