The software giant steps up its fight with Nokia, unveiling software that powers cell phones based on a faster version Code Division Multiple Access technology.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant has been competing in the cell phone operating system market with what amounts to one hand tied behind its back; the company's cell phone operating system worked with most versions of just one major cell phone standard, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), which is more popular in Europe.
Nokia, on the other hand, is a backer of Symbian, an operating system capable of making cell phones that use nearly all variations of both major cell phone standards, GSM and CDMA.
Hitachi's Multimedia Communicator and Samsung's i700, announced Monday, are among the first phones to implement a version of Microsoft's phone software for CDMA networks that use a variation called 1xrtt, capable of wirelessly downloading Web pages at the speed of a landline telephone connection. Both phones will both be demonstrated Wednesday at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The phones are meant for the North American market, the world's largest concentration of CDMA phone users, said Ed Suwanjindar, a Microsoft spokesman.
There are about 100 million CDMA phone users in the United States, compared with 17 million GSM subscribers. GSM use is much more prevalent in Europe, where nearly every cell phone is a GSM phone.
"The CDMA market is one that's been underserved by our competitors like Nokia" because of the Finnish phone maker's focus on making primarily GSM phones, Suwanjindar said. "We can understand that; there are 750 million GSM subscribers worldwide. But we see an opportunity to address a key market."
A Nokia representative declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing a competitor's product.
The operating systems from Nokia and Microsoft power "smart phones," devices that cost between $300 and $500 and combine the functions of a cell phone and a PDA (personal digital assistant). Smart phones will make up about a third of the 700 million cell phones being sold every year beginning in 2007, Suwanjindar said.
Both Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless are likely candidates to sell the phones.
Hitachi is working with Sprint to introduce its Communicator to the American market, according to a statement from Hitachi general manager Shigeru Matsuoka. A Sprint PCS representative did not have an immediate comment on Monday.
Verizon Wireless is a likely candidate to sell the Samsung and Hitachi devices because it's a CDMA carrier and has a service that features easier wireless access to Microsoft content such as Hotmail and Outlook calendar functions.
Additional information about the Hitachi and Samsung devices, including price and availability, was not available.