IBM today cut deals with Cisco, Intel, Palm, Motorola, Nokia and
Symbian to deliver Web software, content and services to wireless devices.
The partnerships are part of IBM's strategic plan to dominate the wireless market by extending existing technologies and working with third parties, rather than developing all new technology itself.
"For IBM, this is a different way of doing business," said Technology
Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance. "IBM usually waits until all the
pieces are in place before announcing new products."
Instead, IBM is focusing on niche areas where it has something unique to
offer, positioning its products as the "glue" or "plumbing" holding
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM plans to open to third parties some software source
code for synchronizing corporate data and managing content; extend existing
middleware technology to wireless and e-commerce transactions; provide
hardware components essential to cell phones; reposition its server and
middleware technologies for delivering wireless goods and services; and
provide services agreements guaranteeing wireless carriers and corporations
access to data stored on remote servers.
"When you're plugged into electricity you don't think about it, because it's
always there," said Jon Prial, marketing director for IBM's Pervasive
Computing division. "You're almost always plugged into computing power, and
more so as wireless becomes more pervasive."
Along with today's agreements, IBM also unveiled WebSphere Everyplace Suite,
a set of tools for developing and managing content for wireless devices such as cell phones and Palm handhelds. The software suite initially will be
available for two flavors of Unix--IBM's AIX and Solaris from Sun
Microsystems. A Linux version will follow in about three months, and another for Windows 2000, when demand warrants it, Prial said.
Prial described WebSphere Everywhere Suite, and many of the other tools IBM
is providing wireless developers, as "plumbing. It may not be glamorous to
be the plumber. But we think we have the necessary tools to enable these
The plumbing builds on IBM's experience providing the wired world access to
data stored on large servers built by Big Blue and its competitors. IBM
currently provides wireless data access to its DB2 database, Lotus Domino
software, Microsoft Exchange and Oracle databases.
Through the partnerships, IBM hopes to more quickly bring emerging wireless
technologies, such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Mobile
Internet Exchange (MIX), to market. WAP, for example, is a way of accessing
content, like information from a Web page, over a wireless connection.
IBM is betting that as wireless rapidly expands, more companies will want to
offer employees access to a wide range of devices, whether they be wireless
handheld PCs or cell phones.
In the United States, the number of people with two-way and Internet
wireless access will increase 728 percent by 2003, to 61.5 million from 7.4
million last year, according to International Data Corp.
"We think the potential for mobile data is huge," Merrill Lynch
analyst Linda Mutschler wrote in a report issued Friday. "In many ways, it's like
1995 all over again with development of the Internet on the wired side. But
this time it should happen faster because we already understand the power of
IBM and Nokia are combining their resources to accommodate Internet service
providers (ISPs) and application service providers (ASPs), companies that
provide Web access or host business applications accessed over the Internet.
The agreement extends an existing relationship between IBM and Nokia, as the
two companies jointly develop data exchange and collaboration tools around
The computing and wireless giants hope to provide ISPs and ASPs the tools
necessary for offering their customers easy access to corporate data or
information available from specialized Web portals.
"The problem is complex when developing content for so many types of
devices," Prial said. "Most Web content is graphics rich, but software
developers need to strip out much of that for these wireless devices."
To that end, IBM is counting on its WebSphere software, which provides tools for quickly taking the same
piece of content and modifying it for a particular wireless device, many of
which use small, low-resolution monochrome screens.
The partnership with Motorola focuses on wireless carriers and providing an
easier way of delivering email, corporate data, news and stock quotes to
cell phones and Palm handhelds. The first products are expected during the
second half of 2000.
The other agreements recognize the importance of controlling the standards
by which new technologies are developed, in this case wireless Web content,
products and services.
Intel agreed to share wireless technology assets with IBM, for use at four
wireless research centers in Scandinavia. In exchange, IBM will provide
hardware and software services to Intel's European wireless development
centers. The companies will focus their research and development efforts on helping ISPs and Internet start-ups bring next-generation wireless applications to market.
IBM also agreed to work with Palm and Symbian on developing easier ways of
accessing corporate data using Palm handhelds. As part of the agreement, IBM
committed to opening a joint development center in Yamato, Japan, and
collaborating with Symbian on software for accessing corporate data