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KDDI ties in partners for new phone OS

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Qualcomm, Toshiba, Sanyo and Japanese cellco KDDI, are planning to work on a new operating system for handsets, rivaling the Symbian OS, Linux and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.

The aim is supposed to be to cut the cost of designing new handsets, although initially at least, it is likely to increase costs, and what this seems to be really about is gaining control over handset designs by one of the major Japanese operators.

It throws a new light on the break up of the deal between Sanyo and Nokia earlier this month, to work on CDMA handsets, which resulted in Nokia pulling out of the CDMA market altogether, saying it was too small an opportunity. Perhaps Sanyo was tempted instead by the opportunity to capture the great bulk of future KDDI handset business.

Nokia, as the primary driving force behind Symbian, would never have agreed to go along with a deal like this. Its Series 60 development environment competes head on with Qualcomm’s BREW, and now Qualcomm has a chance to dominate a full operating system as handsets become more and more sophisticated and need to control more processes and peripherals.

The move is supposed to cut the cost of producing a new handset by more than two thirds, but perhaps no-one has factored in the cost of supporting an operating system and we wonder about the accuracy of that statement.

The software will be ready for mobile phone handsets to go on the market by the end of 2007, a statement said, claiming that handset makers can spend as much $85m to 170m to develop a high-end new phone and take a long as two years. The group says it can cut this down to one year with a new operating system.

The four companies have agreed to include software for running cameras, messaging programs and wireless applications, as part of the operating system. Many major operators have already agreed a standard for running messaging systems at 3GSM this year. KDDI has 26 million mobile phone subscribers in Japan and it will need more converts to the new operating system at other operators in order to spread the cost over a sufficiently large population of handsets.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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