IBM inks slew of wireless deals

Big Blue cuts deals with Cisco, Intel, Palm, Motorola, Nokia and Symbian to deliver Web software, content and services to wireless devices.

4 min read
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 everything together.

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 wireless devices."

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 the Internet."

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 WAP.

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 wirelessly.