Wireless Knowledge executives are not fazed by Microsoft's
recent wireless partnership with Ericsson, despite having formed a similar
pact with the software giant less than a year ago.
Executives said today the new venture, intended to develop mobile Internet access services, is "complementary" to Wireless Knowledge's deal and will only
help generate demand for the venture's remote access service for
Wireless Knowledge, a venture between
Microsoft and wireless firm Qualcomm, is one of several companies aggressively targeting the
wireless data market by offering services for business users on the go. Many
analysts believe the mobile data market will explode in the United States in
the next few years as technology improves and the cost of mobile phones
Wireless Knowledge offers mobile access to email, but
does not yet provide wireless Net access or other e-commerce functions.
Wireless Knowledge since its inception has been slow to get its services off the
ground, and recently named a new chief executive.
Although some could read Microsoft's new deal as a shot at Wireless
Knowledge, executives see the alliance as helping their cause.
"We see [the Microsoft-Ericsson deal] as very complementary to us,"
said Jinny Beneke, vice president of marketing for Wireless Knowledge. "It's
just one more force that will drive the adoption of wireless data."
Analysts hailed the Microsoft-Ericsson
deal as a clear signal of the software giant's commitment to the wireless
industry, but pointed out that a recognization of its plans to work closely
with Wireless Knowledge were noticeably absent from the mid-week fanfare.
"This announcement is the most significant manifestation to date of
Microsoft's strategy for the mobile phone market. Interestingly, it includes
no references to Microsoft's joint venture, Wireless Knowledge, established
last year with partner Qualcomm," said market watcher Zona Research in a
report this week.
One explanation could stem from the fact that Wireless Knowledge's service
works primarily with corporate networks powered by Microsoft
software including the BackOffice family of products, while Microsoft's new
Ericsson venture is intended to be more flexible, Zona wrote.
Microsoft often invests in or partners with competing technologies,
waiting for the market to shake out before striking with a decisive strategy
of its own. However, many of Microsoft's forays into communications have
been met with mixed results.
Wireless Knowledge executives said ties between the Ericsson alliance and
their own are obvious. Ericsson makes both mobile handsets and back-end
wireless equipment, but Wireless Knowledge provides the optimization
services that tie that hardware together.
Wireless Knowledge works with wireless carriers to make sure their networks
can support Revolv, a service that provides mobile remote access to
corporate applications such as email, shared calendar and contact
information, and other Microsoft Exchange server-based applications.
"We provide the services, applications, integration and optimization that
sits between the infrastructure and the handsets," Beneke said. "We see the
Ericsson-Microsoft play as focusing on the two end-points that will drive
the need for services in the middle."
Indeed, the Ericsson alliance gives Microsoft a ready-made customer for its
microbrowser software, which allows mobile handsets to carry Web sites and
other Internet content. Qualcomm, in contrast, has announced its intention to
sell its handset production business by the end of the year.
In an interesting twist, newly installed Wireless Knowledge chief executive
Eric Schultz, formerly Microsoft's director of wireless strategy, was
instrumental in forming the Ericsson-Microsoft partnership.
"Obviously he didn't see it as a big threat," Beneke said. "It just fills
out the whole spectrum of wireless options for Microsoft and is great news
for the wireless data industry. The more it raises awareness of wireless
data the more it drives the need and demand for our services."