Wireless Companies Get Connected

More than 200 wireless companies, including Nokia, are teaming up to standardize application development for wireless phones.

Updating plans announced at Fall Comdex, Nokia Corp. and several other wireless industry companies announced an alliance to bridge existing industry groups and standardize application development for wireless phones.

The Open Mobile Alliance blends the Open Mobile Architecture, which Nokia announced in November, with the WAP Forum, whose Wireless Application Protocol is used on many Web browsers today but does not have much of a future on higher-bandwidth, next-generation wireless networks.

The idea is that a standard way to develop applications for 3G networks will cut down on the time to market them, alliance officials said.

"With the creation of the open mobile alliance, for the first time the whole value chain will be involved," said Alan Cox, head of international technologies at Vodafone.

Other established groups joining the alliance include the Location Interoperability Forum, MMS (multimedia message service) Interoperability Group, SyncML Initiative Ltd. and the Wireless Village instant messaging standard initiative.

The alliance boasts 200 members, including the majority of major cell phone vendors including Nokia, Motorola Corp. and Ericsson AB, several wireless carriers including Nextel Communications Inc. and AT&T Wireless, and chip giant Intel Corp.

Also notable in the alliance is Microsoft Corp., which had been missing from the list of members when Nokia first announced its plans in November.

Microsoft Director of Solutions Planning attributed the companys membership in the alliance to its current membership in the WAP Forum.

"Microsoft has been on the WAP Forum since 1999," he said. "We are now joining the Open Mobile Alliance."

But still missing from the alliance is Palm Inc. subsidiary Palmsource Inc., whose Palm OS is the most widely used handheld operating system in the industry and has been adopted as a cell phone operating system in such products as Handspring Inc.s Treo phone.

"We have spoken to Palm," said Pertti Korhonen, senior vice president of Mobile Software. "I think theyre deciding what their priorities are."

But officials at PalmSource said there had been no real effort to get the company to join the alliance.

"They definitely havent called me," said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at PalmSource in Santa Clara, Calif. "My general sense is that Nokia wants to sell its application software to run on top of Symbian OS phones."

Symbian competes directly with Microsofts smart phone software efforts.

Officials said the companies could still work together because the alliance is focused on operating system-independent application development.

Still, in November, industry observers had worried that Nokias Open Mobile Architecture was a veiled attempt to push its series 60 software platform, which includes an HTML browser and back-end software and runs on top of the Symbian operating system.

Today, Nokia officials said that not much had changed on that front.

"That is of course our natural commitment," Nokias Korhonen said.

In a conference call with tens of alliance members on Tuesday, everyone was vague about definite fruits of the alliances efforts – they only acknowleged that WAP is alive.

"We expect to see products on WAP 2.0 later this year," said Dave Williams, vice president of strategic planning at Cingular Wireless in Atlanta. "and…new, exciting products in 2003."

Industry observers said that standards efforts are generally worthwhile, but this one has a way to go.

"This initiative is one of the worst-marketed efforts around in the mobile community," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Gartner Group in San Jose, Calif. "But what I would expect going forward is some structure. [They need to] define profies of devices and the long term plan for the architecture."