IBM has announced an open wireless data initiative with support from several leading players, but Microsoft is notably absent from the list.
Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Intel, and Cisco are among the companies working with Big Blue to develop an open, scalable platform for wireless data services, which analysts say is poised to explode.
Development will be based on the Epoc operating system championed by the Symbian alliance. IBM will also work with several users in the UK, including the Bank of Scotland and HSBC.
The initiative raises further questions about Microsoft's left of centre wireless data strategy. The software giant has ignored Symbian, and its commitment to wireless application protocol (Wap) is questionable. It has an alliance with Ericsson and is developing the Microsoft Mobile Explorer platform for wireless devices.
IBM said it wants to speed up the development of true open systems to encourage growth of the wireless internet market.
Mike Lawrie, general manager for IBM Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said more people will use wireless devices than PCs to access the internet and do e-business, but that key things need to happen first.
"Key players from the wireless, IT and telecoms industries need to join forces and an open application development environment needs to be created," he said.
Jan Linvberg, a manager for IBM Global Services, said: "There is a need for open standards in the mobile internet space. Microsoft is not part of the industry group driving a need for open standards."
Dilip Mistry, wireless marketing manager at Microsoft Europe, the Middle East and Africa, defended criticism that the software giant is not a strong player in this space. "It is too early to discount us just yet. The industry is at the stage where everybody is talking with everybody else."
He said Microsoft is not threatened by the open source pitching of IBM's alliance. "There is a lot of confusion between open source, industry consortium and open standards," he said. The IBM grouping is "an industry consortium", he added.
"We are 100 per cent committed to industry standards and will fully adopt internet standards. We fully support Wap."
In a report to be published next month, analyst Ovum predicts that the number of mobile devices able to access the internet will exceed the magic one billion mark by 2003, and the large proportion of devices will be capable of mobile ecommerce.
End user spend on mobile ecommerce services worldwide will reach $200bn (£127bn) by 2005. Business-to-business spend today is worth $1.5bn and business-to-consumer is $2.5bn.
Dan Ridsdale, telecoms analyst at Ovum, said vendors are keen to have a slice of this market which is "in a land-grab scenario. But wireless internet won't take off until applications and content are there."
"The people who make the best business alliances now are the people who will win, but generic standards are needed over security and payments."
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