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IBM focuses on behind-the-scenes mobile market

IBM has opened a new software development facility in Massachusetts, which will focus on developing applications and software for mobile operators.

IBM wants to be the behind-the-scenes software provider of the mobile phone market, the company said Wednesday as it discussed its mobile enterprise strategy and opened a new software research and development center in Massachusetts.

The facility based in Littleton, Mass., is Big Blue's largest campus in North America devoted to software development with roughly 3,400 employees. The new campus will focus on developing software and applications for the mobile phone market. Unlike other large technology companies that have taken the mobile market by storm, such as Apple and Google, IBM isn't developing a smartphone operating system nor is it focusing on developing individual mobile "apps." Instead, IBM will work behind the scenes developing software and solutions for wireless operators that will help them create new applications and services for wireless customers.

"We're shifting attention in mobile from a device perspective toward things we can't see," said Al Zollar, general manager of Tivoli software for IBM. "We believe IBM is well-positioned to capture a lot of this growth opportunity."

In the mobile enterprise market, IBM competes to some degree with Hewlett-Packard and Sybase, which is now being acquired by SAP. But these firms are more focused on front-facing applications. For example, HP has just bought Palm in an attempt to boost its mobile operating-system technology. But IBM is more of a middleware player. And it will focus on the back end of the mobile market helping operators integrate systems.

Unbeknownst to most consumers, IBM claims that roughly 80 percent of smartphone software is already developed using IBM technology. And carriers throughout the world have long used IBM software to manage their networks.

Some of the new initiatives the company announced Wednesday for the launch of the new facility include technology that will help wireless operators better manage power consumption at their cell sites. The company also announced full support and integration of its Lotus Notes software with the Android operating system. And it announced a new research project that will help mobile operators moving toward 4G wireless networks to better manage network resources.

One of the biggest problems that wireless operators face today is managing traffic on their wireless networks, which are being overwhelmed by an increasing amount of mobile data.

"The backhaul networks have come under tremendous stress," Zollar said. "So we are working with them to dynamically reroute traffic over backhaul networks, and we are driving new intelligence into their networks."

Zollar explained that IBM's strategy in mobile is similar to what it was able to accomplish in the PC market, where it also became the behind-the-scenes-software provider.

"When the PC penetrated society, a whole new economic value chain emerged of clients serving clients," he said. "Much of this wasn't visible to the end user. The same thing is happening in mobile. Behind the scenes and behind the devices there is a growing economy of new services."