March 20, 2001 9:05 AM PST

Microsoft's three-pronged wireless attack

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Ballmer: Microsoft has mobile in its sights
Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft
Microsoft is getting ready to ride multiple wireless waves.

The software titan on Tuesday announced three new partnerships with phone and pager manufacturers. Two of the announcements relate to a smart phone device code-named Stinger and to a Mobile Explorer device, which have support from other manufacturers. The third is a new venture into pagers.

Microsoft announced that it is teaming with Motorola to bring MSN services to two-way pagers. The devices will be rebranded to MSN but the device will be the Motorola Talkabout T900.

The partnerships are an effort to enlist help from established industry names as Microsoft enters a market that is largely unfamiliar to it.

"We recognize that, as we enter the wireless market, we need to build key relationships with names that are already established," said Ed Suwanjindar, a Microsoft product manager. "Software is the magic behind the solution, and that's what we bring to a relationship."

Microsoft's magic in non-PC products has not been very potent. In the portable device category, products based on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system have taken a back seat to PDAs (personal digital assistants) using Palm's operating system.

But the company is making a conscious effort to diversify the types of gadgets that it can provide software for, such as phones and pagers. The growth of the phone and pager markets is expected to eclipse that of the PDA market in the next five years, according to analysts.

The decision to address product categories other than PDAs isn't so surprising, according to Alex Slawsby, an IDC analyst.

"It's a good sign for Microsoft that manufacturers are signing up for their phone platforms. But as far as adding new devices, such as the pager, it's almost a response to what AOL and RIM are doing," he said.

America Online has been pushing its services into devices such as pagers, phones and set-top boxes, while Research In Motion (RIM) has been signing up licensees for its popular BlackBerry service and pagers.

Taiwan-based HTC will join Samsung, Sendo and Mitsubishi Electric as manufacturers of Stinger, which is essentially a combination phone and PDA with Web-browsing capabilities. The OS behind Stinger is a version of Windows CE 3.0 that has been optimized for phones. HTC is the manufacturer behind Compaq Computer's iPaq Pocket PC handheld.

The HTC phone, which is oval, will be available by the end of the year, according to Suwanjindar.

Mitsubishi will be the first company to introduce a phone with Microsoft's Mobile Explorer software in the United States. Mitsubishi will use the software in its Trium G520 and GT550 phones. The phones will be available in the first quarter of next year.

Mobile Explorer includes a microbrowser for cell phones.

The MSN pager will be available in the second half of the year for $99 and will include MSN services. Microsoft and Motorola are targeting "youths" with the device, hoping to imitate the SMS craze that has hit Europe in the past couple of years.

 

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