Microsoft makes the move to WAP with MME

Microsoft formally threw its hat into the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phone market yesterday with the announcement of its Microsoft Mobile Explorer (MME) software platform for Internet-enabled wireless devices.

MME is basically a repackaging of the company's microbrowser and Windows CE operating system for mobile phones, said Rebecca Thompson, the product manager for Microsoft's productivity appliances division. But it also sets the stage for Microsoft's joint venture with L.M. Ericsson Telephone -- also announced yesterday -- to develop and market wireless Internet software and products.

The announcement of the joint venture was made a day ahead of schedule, when investor speculation about the new company being formed by Ericsson and Microsoft forced the suspension of trading in Ericsson stock in Stockholm.

Under the terms of the joint venture agreement, the companies will develop Internet-enabled wireless applications using Ericsson's WAP telephone technology and Microsoft's MME. Ericsson will also develop a WAP product using MME. WAP comprises a set of protocols that let wireless devices upload Internet pages written in WML (Wireless Markup Language).

MME works with telephones designed to receive data transmissions, and is already being tested by such companies as British Telecommunications. BT and Microsoft are working together to develop and test MME-based phones and hand-held devices for both corporate and consumer use.

BT is already testing the next-generation WAP-based devices along with HTML-only wireless devices, Thompson of Microsoft said.

The newest component to MME is Microsoft's updated microbrowser. The original version of the microbrowser only uploaded Web pages written in HTML script, but the newest version -- to be available in the first quarter of 2000 -- will be WAP-enabled.

"The first microbrowser was an HTML-only version. Now we are adding a dual-mode version and that's the one that Ericsson will be adopting," Thompson said.

Microsoft, which has been slow to jump in the mobile wireless market, will be relying heavily on Ericsson experience in the wireless mobile phone market, according to industry analysts.

"Microsoft has finally clued into the fact that it doesn't really matter what it is (in terms of platform) but what it does," Tim Sheedy, the European analyst on wireless and mobile technology for International Data Corp. (IDC), said.

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