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Nokia presses open platform strategy

Posted: 04 Mar 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nokia? 3gsm world congress? cell phone? smart-phone software?

Nokia will license the source code of smart-phone software it has designed internally. Leading the charge for open technology that emerged as the rallying cry of the European mobile industry at the recent 3GSM World Congress, Nokia said it will offer its Series 60 software and the rest of "an open smart-phone platform" to competing cell phone manufacturers.

In what appears to be an unusual move by a market leader, the Finnish company announced it will open up a platform built around the Symbian operating system, Texas Instruments Inc.'s Open Multimedia Applications Platform and homegrown smart-phone software. The idea is to let competitors catch up and quickly launch smart phones by leveraging an easy-to-use user interface, phone book, calendar and other applications already well tested and implemented by Nokia.

"We are after a good slice of a growing market, rather than a large slice of a small market," said Klaus Seibold, alliance director for Nokia's mobile software. Running similar user interfaces and the same set of applications may be the fastest way to establish interoperability among different handsets and applications, he suggested.

We are going to give out our source code for Series 60," said Seibold, adding that the platform has enough elbow room for vendor differentiation. "That should allow each handset vendor to design their own logos, icons, idle screens and the way their screen generally looks."

Matsushita, the Japanese consumer electronics giant, is currently evaluating Nokia's Series 60-based smart-phone platform as a base for its dual-mode 2.5- and 3G handsets, Nokia reported.

Open road

Vendors at the 3GSM World Conference here hammered home the theme that without an "open technology" to unify the industry's disparate parts?allowing companies to design and build new and interoperable services critical to the emerging 2.5G and 3G networks?handset makers and communications equipment companies see their future as bleak.

The European mobile market is already hurting. Despite the huge lead the common European Global System for Mobile communications standard bought them in the 1990s, the mobile industry in the past 18 months has been struggling to unscramble complex interoperability issues that have delayed market acceptance of new services including Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and GPRS.

Nokia, a vocal promoter of openness, is leading an industry initiative called Open Mobile Architecture (OMA). "We've recognized that the fragmentation of service platforms as a huge issue for unlocking the potential for peer-to-peer mobile communications," Pertti Korhonen, senior vice president of Nokia, said at the congress. Korhonen also cited entertainment?a category including music and games, mobile commerce and corporate services?as another pillar of the upcoming 2.5G and 3G networks.

Launched late last fall at the Comdex show in Las Vegas, OMA was created as "a forum where the industry leaders align their efforts to enable new services that can work across different standards and platforms," Korhonen said.

Of course, this is easier said than done. For an industry accustomed to a vertical business model?each vendor with its own hardware, middleware and applications ?an OMA-type approach requires fundamental changes in infrastructure.

Korhonen made it clear that the 31 OMA companies have so far "identified XHTML, Java and MMS as the first critical enablers for OMA. The industry has learned [lessons] from WAP," he said. In order to launch compelling services that are open and interoperable, "We need an end-to-end service scenario that works across the industry."

To pave the way for 2.5G and 3G services, OMA members have produced "compatibility documents" specifying technical elements such as screen sizes, user interfaces, attachments, formats and different input mechanisms, he said. "The base information is already there on the Web, but it's only available to OMA members and not yet public," according to Nokia's Seibold.

Missing party

Conspicuously absent from the OMA initiative is Microsoft Corp. Asked whether Nokia is making any effort to court the software giant, Korhonen said, "The OMA is open for all companies to join. Those who are committed to making an open, interoperable service happen through non-proprietary architecture and technologies are welcome."

While patiently working with the rest of the industry on the OMA initiative, Nokia is also growing impatient. "We want to find a way to kick-start this [2.5G and 3G] market," said Seibold.

? Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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