Microsoft, Vodafone Target Wireless Web Services

Forging its second major partnership involving wireless devices in as many months, Microsoft has said it will work closely with Vodafone to create Web services standards that can extend desktop applications to mobile devices.

The announcement linking one of the world’s top mobile phone companies — Vodafone has ties to about 123 million mobile customers worldwide — and the largest software maker came at a Geneva, Switzerland, telecom conference. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the standards seek to bridge a key missing link in the computing world.

The two companies said their Web services standards, based on XML, will enable messaging, location and billing technologies used by mobile networks to be connected to traditional computing networks.

However, Microsoft and Vodafone are not breaking new ground, analysts note. A host of efforts already are under way to develop Web services standards for the desktop-to-mobile transition.

Star Power

While the two companies called for industry cooperation, saying faster standards development will benefit all firms, some critics see ulterior motives on the part of Microsoft, which has made no secret of its desire to extend its desktop dominance to the rising generation of mobile devices.

For example, Gartner analyst Ben Wood said Microsoft has the ability to be the first to translate standards into products — and, with Vodafone, it will have a willing customer to funnel those products to users.

“Microsoft has made no secret that it wants to be a player in the mobile world,” Wood told the E-Commerce Times. Last month, he noted, the company announced it would work with AT&T and Orange to spread the Windows Mobile platform. “The fact that they’re reaching out to some major partners is an effort to give them credibility in the telecom world.”

Clear and Present Benefits

For its part, Microsoft said the existence of clear standards will hasten development of interactive services. For example, stranded motorists could access the Web via mobile phone, find a nearby auto repair service and then automatically provide their location on the highway to that service.

“By bringing mobile services into the PC world, Microsoft and Vodafone are offering developers the opportunity to create greater-value services for customers and new revenues,” said Ian Maxwell, who is overseeing the effort for Vodafone.

The companies also announced they will use the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference later this month in Los Angeles to unveil a research paper on the standards push, along with what they are calling a “technical road map for specifications.”

This blueprint will discuss how various mobile functions, such as pinpointing location and message swapping, can be integrated into existing networks. It will be followed by a series of industry workshops starting in January 2004.

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