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Windows Update for mobile phones?

Deadlock broken

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The Open Mobile Alliance has published its Firmware Update Management Object (FUMO): a standard which allows mobile phones to be updated over the air - from fixing a spelling mistake to changing the whole OS, all without bothering the user at all.

For all the complaints about Windows Update, there is value in the distributor of an operating system being able to issue updates, and few users are actually capable of installing those updates, even when prompted to do so. Windows Update has probably prevented more problems than it’s caused. While some people want comprehensive control over updates and patches, the majority just want security and functionality improvements to happen when they’re not looking.

But enabling the same kind of functionality on mobile phones has proved a great deal more complicated. The lack of space to store a complete backup, and the relatively slow connectivity, has required that patches and upgrades need a visit to an approved service centre: a strange limitation for a networked device. The operating system on an embedded device, such as a mobile phone, is considered neither hard nor soft ware: so is known as “firmware”, and Nokia&'s recent decision to allow customers to upgrade their firmware at home reflects improvements in roll-back technologies and increased confidence in the stability of updates issued. But performing such an upgrade over the air is a big step from doing so over a nice, reliable, USB cable.

few companies are hawking technologies for distributing firmware upgrades, but network operators won’t buy the servers until the handsets support the technology; and no handset will support the technology until the servers are in place. Operators have been very reluctant to support proprietary technologies for fear of having multiple platforms running, and being locked into a specific supplier. So without an industry standard the technology has been stalled.

Now the standard has been published testing can start, which will begin in September. So some time next year we can expect to see handsets conforming to the standard becoming available.

Assuming FUMA is used to fix instabilities and issue critical security updates then it seems unlikely anyone will mind. But operators are much more interested in having the capability to reach out and change the menus and interfaces on your phone: ensuring maximum visibility for their current promotions or premium services, and customers may find that an update too far. reg;

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