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European wireless carriers unite

Three companies--in Spain, Germany and Italy--are joining to develop services, a strategy that one analyst says may catch on in the United States.

Three European cell phone providers announced Monday that they are jointly developing wireless services, a new level of cooperation among competitors that one analyst predicts could soon reach U.S. shores.

The deal unites Telef?nica M?viles in Spain, T-Mobile International in Germany and TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) in Italy. Such a relationship could have merit in the United States, where, as in Europe, cell phone operators are bending under huge debt loads and a souring economy, Jupiter Research wireless analyst Joe Laszlo said.

"These European carriers appear to be moving towards a common framework for new services. That's great from the content provider perspective because all they would have to do is negotiate one business deal, not three," Laszlo said. "The carriers likely will get better content and lower the cost of making the content available across a very big chunk of audience at a time."

The companies are looking to attract corporate clients because they travel frequently and are early adopters of new wireless Web offerings, according to Monday's announcement. The carriers have not, however, ruled out creating an offer for consumers, according to TIM CEO Marco De Benedetti.

Some of the first new services will be more mundane, such as one that will give cell phone users access to corporate computer networks in the same way, regardless of the country they're dialing from. Others will include recharging a prepaid account while abroad or accessing customer care in the client's home language, according to Antonio Viana-Baptista, CEO of Telef?nica M?viles.

U.S. carriers often look to both Asia and Europe for new service ideas. Asia's leading carrier, NTT DoCoMo of Japan, has inspired carriers elsewhere to launch consumer-oriented services, such as games, ring tones and other downloads. And the European carriers' ability to cooperate with each other has been imported to the United States. Several U.S. carriers are now sharing the costs of building phone networks, a strategy that debuted in Europe in 2001.