November 20, 2002 1:02 PM PST

Mobile phone alliance marches ahead

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A wireless alliance of companies led by Microsoft and Nokia is continuing to absorb smaller industry groups and expects to garner even more support by year's end.

The Open Mobile Alliance, which promotes standard ways for cell phones to exchange data, announced it recently added nonprofit group Mobile Wireless Internet Forum to its organization. Members of the forum include Intel, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

The Mobile Games Interoperability Forum (MGIF) also intends to join the alliance, said Mike Wehrs, director of technology and standards for Microsoft's mobility group. Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens formed MGIF to promote standards for offering games over wireless phones. Game maker THQ is among the 17 members of MGIF.

The Open Mobile Alliance itself was created by the merger of two other groups promoting standard ways for cell phones to exchange data such as e-mails: the Open Mobile Architecture initiative, created by Nokia last year, and the more established WAP Forum, of which Microsoft is a member.

Unlike Nokia, which has created more than a dozen different industry alliances to promote open standards, Microsoft rarely joins industry groups. But it joined the Open Mobile Alliance six months ago, with the intention of becoming a driving force behind the group that wants to standardize different areas of wireless data, including mobile Web browsing, messages that contain media attachments, digital rights management, and mobile content downloads, Wehrs said.

The move was part of a broader reshaping of Microsoft's thinking about wireless. Until recently, the company had been reluctant to join wireless groups. But that changed after Pieter Knook earlier this year took over the reins of the Microsoft unit that creates much of the software for wireless devices. Knook is looking to grow the number of devices in the wireless market that use Microsoft's software.

The Open Mobile Alliance believes in open standards, rather than proprietary standards like CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), which Qualcomm owns the patents to, said Jerry Upton, Motorola's vice president of strategy and standards. About 15 percent to 20 percent of the world's cellular telephone networks use CDMA.

The leading cell phone equipment standard is GSM (Global System For Mobile Communications), which is generally considered an open standard. GSM equipment is used in about 70 percent to 75 percent of the world's cellular telephone networks, including those of AT&T Wireless, which has joined the Open Mobile Alliance.

 

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