Heavyweights Push Wireless 'Net Access

If the wireless technology alliances announced this week are successful, users will be able to tap into the wealth of information on the Internet from their cellular phones and other untethered devices.

Cisco Systems Inc. and Motorola Inc. as well as Microsoft and British Telecommunications (BT) separately announced alliances to develop and deliver Internet- and intranet-based wireless network products and services.

The Cisco-Motorola collaboration will deliver the first all-IP platform for the wireless industry, uniting different wireless standards and opening up the Internet to deliver integrated data, voice and video services over cellular networks, the companies claim.

Cisco and Motorola plan to jointly invest as much as US$1 billion over four to five years to deliver the wireless Internet services. The firms plan to cross-license technology and develop complementary products. Additionally, the companies plan to establish four Internet Solutions Centers worldwide for product testing, demonstrations, training and certification.

But analysts say there was a lack of content in the Cisco- Motorola announcement.

"They're playing the IBM game, which is just market it to death and eventually you won't necessarily have to deliver everything you're promising because the markets will change anyway," says Craig Johnson, principal at the Pita Group in Portland, Oregon.

This is Cisco's second stab at partnering with a wireless device manufacturer to deliver wireless Internet access. In June 1996, Cisco and Ericsson announced an alliance to collaborate on the development and exploration of wireless Internet services.

From Cisco's point of view, the results of that collaboration are forgettable. When asked last week what became of the Cisco/Ericsson partnership, Cisco Executive Vice President Don Listwin replied, "My memory from 1996 isn't all that good, so I don't know."

Ericsson did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.

The Cisco-Motorola architecture is designed to support all wireless standards, such as Global System for Mobile Communication, Code Division Multiple Access and Time Division Multiple Access. The companies hope to spur a new generation of products and services for wireless Internet access.

With the products and services, users could:

-- Access updated information from corporate IP networks using portable devices.

-- Send and receive voice mail, e-mail and fax messages while talking on the same phone.

-- Use smart cards embedded in wireless devices to make real-time transactions, such as buying and selling stocks and purchasing airline tickets.

The companies plan to release an architectural white paper in the second quarter, open the Internet Solutions Centers in the third quarter and introduce new customers and services in the fourth quarter.

As for the Microsoft-BT initiative, the firms will jointly develop Internet and intranet services giving corporate users access to e-mail, calendars and the World Wide Web via mobile phones, pagers, handheld devices and laptop computers. The services will be built atop Microsoft's Windows NT, Exchange Server and Internet Information Server.

The agreement also calls for BT to push Microsoft's microbrowser technology for device manufacturers' handsets and to help develop future Windows CE-based wireless products.

One industry expert questions whether the Microsoft products are up to the task.

"I would like to see if, in fact, Exchange and NT can provide the scalability and performance that a company like BT needs," says Mark Levitt of International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts. "Microsoft has not proven the scalability of Exchange or of NT, so they're either going to have a huge football field full of NT servers running to support large numbers of customers or they're going to have problems."

Trials of the service are expected to begin in the U.K. next quarter, with more extensive implementations in several countries in early 2000.

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