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Vodafone, Microsoft link software

By Julie Clothier for CNN

Microsoft's Bill Gates addresses the ITU Telecom World conference.
Microsoft's Bill Gates addresses the ITU Telecom World conference.

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CNN's Diana Muriel reports on the telecom industry's flagship conference. 
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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- Microsoft and Vodafone are joining forces to create programming standards for software that will eventually link computers and mobile phones.

But one analyst is warning the move by the American software giant and the British mobile phone company will be greeted with skepticism by the rest of the industry.

The plan was announced Monday by Microsoft founder Bill Gates at the ITU Telecom World 2003 in Geneva.

It comes as telecom operators are increasingly looking to offer services that are available on mobile phones, in a non-mobile environment, including on personal computers.

These services include messaging, location and billing technologies used by mobile phone networks.

The new programming standards are being created to ensure consistency across the industry. At present, each mobile operator sets their own rules for application developers.

But research director Neil Macehiter, from research company Ovum, said the move by Microsoft and Vodafone -- both the dominant players in their respective industries -- came as a surprise because there were already some similar initiatives under way.

He believed the companies' aims were "laudable" but said they would need full support of other operators to make them work.

"The industry may initially be skeptical about this. They may see it as an effort by Microsoft and Vodafone to hijack the industry. It will require a lot of politicking to ensure they get full industry support," he said.

Vodafone spokesperson Janine Young defended the move, saying the standards that the two companies would come up with would be open to scrutiny from the rest of the sector.

They would unveil a "road map" in the next few weeks before releasing a draft version of the guidelines for consultation in January.

During his keynote speech at the conference, Gates told the 3,000-strong audience from the telecommunications sector that software would be the key for the industry in the future. (Full story)

"The thing is pretty simple. Software is the ingredient that helps continue to grow this industry," he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Orange jointly unveiled the French mobile phone company's latest "smart phone" -- the SPV E200 -- at the conference.

The new model is an updated version of the SPV E100, launched earlier this year, and features Microsoft's Windows Mobile software.

Attendance at this year's conference in Geneva -- held every four years -- is down on previous years. In 1999, there were more than 1,400 exhibits, compared to 915 this year.

Organizers say they are confident a lot of business will be done this week, despite the collapse of the telecoms sector in the past four years.

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