Microsoft Touts Smart Phones, Wireless Plans

Serving mobile users has become "Job 1" at Microsoft Corp., according to CEO Steve Ballmer, who last week outlined a broad strategy to provide enterprises and consumers with new mobile products and services. At the core of that initiative is the company's Stinger smart phone.

Ballmer, speaking here at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association's annual conference, said computer users have adopted a "mobile data lifestyle," which requires a focus on delivering the same content to portable devices as that accessible by desktops.

Stinger phones, expected to be available later this year, will allow the 68 million enterprise users of Microsoft Outlook e-mail software to access messages from behind a corporate firewall as easily as from their desktops, Ballmer said.

Microsoft expects that by the end of this year, its hardware partners will start offering in U.S. retail outlets phones based on the Stinger software it unveiled last year, Ballmer said. Microsoft recently signed a deal with High Tech Computer Corp. in Taiwan to develop and market Stinger phones, and has already signed agreements with Samsung Electronics Co. in South Korea, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. in Tokyo and Sendo Ltd. in Birmingham, England.

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Mitsubishi will also start selling phones equipped with Microsoft Mobile Explorer for use on U.S. cell phone networks operating on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) protocol in the first quarter of next year, Ballmer said.

Mitsubishi currently sells GSM phones with Mobile Explorer in Europe, where the phones operate in frequency bands that are different from those used by U.S. networks. Mobile Explorer supports a wide range of wireless interfaces and protocols, including Wireless Application Protocol, iMode and HTML.

Microsoft also introduced a new mobile pager developed by Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill. The device is capable of accessing MSN Messenger and Hotmail services.

Ballmer explained that these new products and services tie in with the company's .Net strategy to allow easy exchange of information from one kind of device and connection -- wired or wireless -- to another. Three to five years from now, the distinctions between the wired and wireless Internet will disappear, Ballmer predicted.

"It's all one Internet," he said. "We want [information] to flow seamlessly from one service mode to another."

Bob Egan, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said Microsoft has taken a very "aggressive stance" in the mobile and wireless arena because of competition ranging from pager companies succh as Research in Motion Ltd. to personal digital assistant manufacturers such as Palm Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., and other smart phone companies such as Symbian Ltd. in London.

"This is an enterprise fight, and it's Microsoft's to lose," said Egan.

This story, "Microsoft Touts Smart Phones, Wireless Plans" was originally published by Computerworld.

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