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IBM to seek software developers for wireless strategy

Hoping for a stronger foothold in the wireless world, the computer giant plans to announce a program that gives developers of wireless applications access to IBM technology and research.

IBM today will announce a program that gives software developers building wireless applications access to IBM technology and research, and in turn drag IBM deeper into the wireless world.

IBM's effort to recruit wireless developers is part of Big Blue's overall plan for "pervasive computing," stated Jon Prial, director of marketing for the company's recently formed pervasive computing group.

As wireless devices become more popular, more complex and interesting applications will be developed for cell phones and handhelds. These applications will inevitably have to speak to PCs, Web sites and databases, IBM reasons. The company's plan is to provide the back-end hardware, software and services--all strong points for IBM--to permit these client applications to actually work.

"You need to make sure you have the infrastructure. You need to build that larger piece that does the smart connection between devices," he said. "A lot of our existing middleware will get extended out."

Nokia, which yesterday became the largest European company in terms of market capitalization, and around 300 wireless developers will be on hand at IBM's Solution Partnership Center in San Mateo, Calif., for the announcement. Initially, the recruiting efforts will be concentrated in Silicon Valley but later will be expanded to other areas.

The wireless application industry is in a fairly embryonic state, said Prial. Rather than install fungible, off-the-shelf systems, most companies have had to develop proprietary programs largely from scratch. "There is a history of in-house applications," he said. So far, most of the application development has occurred in Europe. Some European banks, for instance, have applications that allow customers to make transactions via wireless devices.

In the future, this will likely change rapidly. Programs that allow wider access to Internet content will emerge, followed by standard transactional applications.

Although wireless communications has long been considered one of the growth segments in high tech, it has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks as analysts and companies have raised their projections for customer demand for unhinged communications.

In the past month, Nokia has seen its stock rise from around 120 to close at just above 176 yesterday. The price increase accelerated last week after the company stated that the number of wireless subscribers would hit 1 billion by 2002, a year earlier than previous projections.

Meanwhile, Research in Motion, which makes pagers, has seen its stock jump from the low $40s to $55 per share.