NEW ORLEANS (02/29/2000) - Alliances, strategic partnerships, and acquisitions are coming fast and furious now in the wireless marketplace, with the Wireless 2000 show here leaving behind it a dizzying array of companies positioning themselves for an anticipated explosion in wireless communications.
In a theme that has been echoed again and again at this year's show, companies are realizing more than ever that they cannot serve the needs of wireless customers alone. Among the companies announcing strategic partnerships this week are Sun Microsystems Inc., Palm Computing Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Microsoft Corp., Nortel Networks Corp., Vodafone Airtouch, Intel Corp., Phone.com Inc., IBM Corp., Nextel, and countless others.
According to Alain Rossman, chief executive officer of Phone.com, the convergence of hardware, software, and carrier companies will be so thorough, it will be difficult to distinguish one from another in three to five years.
"There will be wireless companies acquiring Internet companies and Internet companies acquiring wireless companies," said Rossman. "Customers want a bundled product, like a one-rate plan."
Leading the league in both general announcements and partnership/acquisition announcements this week is Qualcomm -- by a landslide, with a whopping 12 news releases, half of which were strategic alliances. In addition to expanding its existing relationship with Microsoft to create a reference design specification for Windows CE-based CDMA (code division multiple access) cell phones, the wireless giant inked deals with Lucent, RF Micro Devices, Tellit Communications Limited, Symbian, and Compal Electronics. More information on these alliances can be found at http://www.qualcomm.com/.
Coming in a distant second was Sun Microsystems, which unveiled deals with Palm Computing, Lucent, and BellSouth. The hardware giant demonstrated the use of Palm VII wireless handhelds to access its iPlanet and Star Portal applications.
The companies will jointly market the end-to-end solution to major enterprises.
BellSouth has agreed to use Java in its Intelligent Wireless Network to upload applications to wireless devices. And Lucent will work with Sun to enable end-users to access company intranets through voice recognition on phones.
"What this industry really needs is partnerships," said Ed Zander, president and chief operating officer of Sun. And how.
In other high-profile alliances, Intel and Phone.com teamed up to improve the performance of Internet-enabled mobile phones. Phone.com will design its UP.Browser microbrowser to be optimized for Intel's Flash Data Integrator software to improve storage and access capabilities of mobile phones.
Not to be left out of the free-for-all, IBM teamed up with Nextel in an effort to sell each other's products to each other's customers. Specifically, IBM's software and services will be combined with Nextel's Online Dial-Up Service and mobile communications devices for end-to-end solutions. IBM also announced its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher technology, which will enable existing Web sites to be "transcoded" on the fly for different types of client devices, eliminating the need to re-write the site.
Nortel Networks and Vodafone Airtouch have agreed to conduct a wireless Internet trial in Dallas beginning in March to show a packet-based, IP architecture that could save significant costs for the delivery of wireless voice and data.
The partnerships will continue, says Compaq Computer Corp. CEO Michael Capellas, and the choices these companies make in their strategic alliances will determine which vendors emerge as leaders in the wireless market.
"The convergence is really starting to happen," says Capellas. "Content, carrier, computation. What it all means is that we'll see all kinds of partnerships and alliances, and those who are successful won't be the ones that try to do it all."