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Microsoft committed to wireless, Gates says

Bill Gates gives a strong sales pitch for the software giant's products and services during a keynote speech at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's annual trade show.

NEW ORLEANS--Software giant Microsoft will leave no networking stone unturned, according to its founder.

Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates gave the wireless industry a strong sales pitch for the software giant's products and services today during a keynote speech to attendees at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's annual trade show.

Some analysts said the profile of Microsoft at the show, as well as a strong presence from Net giants such as America Online, see related story: Microsoft's call for wireless and others, underscores the changing nature of mobile communications.

"It shows (wireless phones are) becoming a consumer product and it shows that the convergence of industries that people have been talking about is happening," said Eddie Hold, principal wireless industry analyst for Current Analysis, a market research firm.

Microsoft's high profile at a wireless networking show may seem curious on the surface, but it is part of a larger push by the software giant to tap into the hugely lucrative communications market. For years Microsoft made its living by dominating the consumer PC industry, while alternative computing systems such as Unix found a home in high-end niches such as telecommunications.

But the communications industry has exploded in recent years, making the wireless industry an extremely attractive target market for Microsoft-as see related story: Companies fight over wireless users well as hundreds of other companies. The combination of traditional mobile voice services with a variety of Internet access and other data technologies has created new opportunities for companies such as Microsoft to exploit where before they had little expertise in the wireless market.

Gates, seemingly speaking directly to the wireless service providers in the audience, touted the company's Windows 2000 software, Microsoft's newest high-end corporate operating system, for its ability to handle a wide number of transactions and for the variety of new communications functions it contains.

He also pitched Microsoft customizable software and services for their ability to reap new revenue and lead to greater network usage--and therefore higher profits--for wireless communications carriers.

"Putting the user in control of their email and information is important for the user. It's also important for the industry, because as the industry builds customer relationships...that's going to create long-term value and a certain stickiness," Gates said during his speech here. "The advertising and transaction fees that can come out of those (new services) is a whole new revenue source that can be a big boost to the mobile industry."

As another sign of its commitment to wireless, Gates said wireless technologies recently received the greatest increase at Microsoft in terms of research and development resources.

"I think the wireless industry is going to converge heavily with the Internet and the PC industry to get even greater growth than the wireless industry has had even to date," said Paul Gross, senior vice president for messaging, collaboration and mobility, a newly combined unit within Microsoft.

"(Microsoft's presence in New Orleans) is a strong statement of the role we'd like to have in the value chain of the wireless industry," Gross said in an interview at the show. "The message is Microsoft is open for business (in the wireless industry)."