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Motorola's Asia deal to kick-start wireless about-face

Posted: 31 Jan 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cell phones? benq? technology license? i-250? bluetooth?

When Motorola vowed to sell its mobile phone technology to any manufacturer in August last year, it was followed by a string of similar announcements from the likes of Ericsson, Intel and Texas Instruments.

It was an apparent admission to Motorola's finding that the handset industry could go through a shift similar to that in the PC sector in the early 1990s when manufacturers began to compete on marketing and distribution rather than technology. Undaunted by the prospects of newfound competition, however, Motorola executives said they were the only semiconductor company that also happens to be a mobile-phone maker.

They were not boasting. Motorola, which has its own semiconductor division as well as its wireless unit, could offer the most complete portfolio of handset technologies. So when it became the first company to sign a deal with Taiwan's mobile-phone maker Benq Corp., the news hardly came as a surprise.

Motorola said it would provide Benq with chips, software, and certification support for manufacturing handsets for the 2.5G wireless networks. Motorola calls its new offering the 2.5G Innovative Convergence (i-250) platform. The i-250 package comprises of a silicon-to-software solution for building data-enabled GSM/GPRS cell phones.

Asia being the hotbed of electronics manufacturing was most likely to acquire the epicenter in this wireless technology about-face. Motorola's first technology tenet was no one else but Asia's cell phone pioneer, Acer Communications and Multimedia Inc., which later renamed itself as Benq Corp. It was the first-ever Asian maker (outside Japan and Korea) to announce a cell-phone brand during the mid-1990s.

Timing could have never been more crucial for both Benq and Motorola. At a time when the wireless industry is entering the uncharted waters of 2.5G services, Benq can make a fresh start with GPRS handsets after having lost the battle for GSM phones. Motorola, on the other hand, desperately needs a breakthrough in its efforts to recapture its glorious past.

Healthy signs

Motorola has already taken a lead in bringing GPRS mobile phones to an industry notorious for delays in handsets launch. And it has become the first wireless manufacturer to produce a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. Using its expertise in automotive electronics, Motorola extended this short-range radio technology to telematics front and released a Bluetooth car kit that combines the wireless connectivity with voice recognition for a new hands-free experience.

The company, based in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois, has also been proactive in finding new possibilities for the m-commerce marketplace. It has recently joined hands with Food.com to create a variety of m-commerce solutions for retailers worldwide. The two companies are collaborating to bring retail restaurant chains currently using Food.com's online ordering servicesas well as other retailersinto the m-commerce space.

There have already been signs of a major change. During the last few quarters, Motorola has been slowly clawing back some market share from Nokia, a major reversal after years of stinging advances by its Finnish rival.

Motorola has a history of reinventing itself, and this time around, its labor of love in the mobile Internet arena as well as its brave decision to license mobile-phone technology may help the firm get back to its once-dominant position during the early 1990s. The deal with Taiwan's Benq may well be a starter.

Majeed Ahmad Kamran

Electronic Engineering Times Asia





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