Microsoft and BT broaden ties on mobile Net developments

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The Independent Online

MICROSOFT and British Telecom yesterday broadened their alliance on mobile phone network development in a bid to take the inside track on deploying mobile Internet equipment, applications and services for consumers worldwide.

MICROSOFT and British Telecom yesterday broadened their alliance on mobile phone network development in a bid to take the inside track on deploying mobile Internet equipment, applications and services for consumers worldwide.

The deal comes a day after 3Com, the palm-top computer maker, and the Psion-led Symbian alliance brokered a co-operation pact designed to secure software supremacy in the wireless Internet world.

From mid-2000, when wireless Internet access is expected to be available at ISDN speeds, BT and Microsoft plan to launch mobile multi-media services to permit consumers to display and access personalised information on handheld wireless devices. The companies plan to commission electronics manufacturers - among them, Japan's Matsushita - to develop handheld interactive wireless units based on the Microsoft's Windows CE operating system.

The deal extends an existing trial called Project Nomad, which allows business customers to use their mobile phones to read, send and receive e-mail and calendar information.

BT's attraction as a partner to Microsoft stems from its worldwide mobile network interests that cover areas containing over one billion consumers. BT also recently agreed to pool its mobile assets with those of AT&T, which itself has a $5bn (£3bn) co-operation pact with Microsoft targeting digital cable set-top boxes.

"That gives an extremely wide footprint for deploying multi-media services," said Andy Green, BT's group strategy and development director. "It combines BT's network skills and wide deployment with Microsoft's software, and that we believe will make this a tremendously powerful move."

Neither company would say how much money is being committed to the venture, although Mr Green said "hundreds of people from both sides" would be seconded. The project is being structured as a joint development programme rather than a formal joint venture to speed its coming on stream as well as obviate the need for formal regulatory clearances in Brussels and Washington.

The deal comes just two days after Bill Gates, the software giant's chairman and chief executive, compared partnerships with telecoms firms to its early collaboration with hardware producers such as Intel and IBM. "Today, I would say our work with telecommunications companies is, if anything, equally important," he told executives at the Telecom 99 trade show in Geneva.

BT's stock rallied nearly 4 per cent after the plan was unveiled, but ended just 10p higher at 982p amid a 1.2 per cent fall in the FTSE 100.

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