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The GSM Association, which represents 540 wireless network operators and equipment manufacturers serving 537 million customers in 169 countries, has produced a new set of standards for wireless Internet services that it hopes would help wireless operators emulate the success of Japan’s I-mode service. The announcement of the Mobile Services, or M-Services, Initiative represents a tacit acceptance that the initial rollout of wireless Internet services over current GSM phones under the WAP banner was a disaster. Mobile operators need a common standard for data services as they battle to increase revenue per user in the face of slowing subscriber growth. In order to ensure better customer adoption of the next generation of mobile phones, which will use always-on GPRS, the GSM Association has produced a set of standards in an attempt to ensure that music downloading, graphics, video streaming and messaging will be ubiquitous throughout new handsets. The GSM Association’s chairman, Scott Fox, described the speed in which the new standards have been produced and the level of cooperation in compiling them as “unprecedented.” “They will make the mobile Internet easier to use and more intuitive,” he told reporters. Mauro Sentinelli, managing director of Telecom Italia Mobile, said he expects phones including the new standards to be available for Christmas. He added that he expects the new services to produce an increase in average revenue per user next year. Sentinelli has been one of the leading proponents of wireless Internet standards among the operators. “We must repeat the miracle that has been done in Japan, and we can do better because we are coming two years later,” he said. “Our aim is to start a new business cycle in the GSM world.” However, the M-Services set of open standards does not replace wireless application protocol, as some reports have suggested. Instead, the new standards build on current WAP capabilities and request some new functionality above and beyond those WAP standards. The most important request is that all M-Services phones should be GPRS, also known as 2.5G, enabled. This will remove many of the problems that have dogged the adoption of WAP, such as slow data rates and the need to log on each time new information is requested. The M-Services guidelines — which, when printed out, are several inches thick when downloaded in full from the GSM Association Web site — were produced with the help of Openwave, the Nasdaq-listed wireless software group formed by last year’s merger of Phone.com and Software.com. Jeff Damir, Openwave’s VP of product services, told TheStandard.com, “These guidelines do not replace WAP, they complement and include WAP.” For instance, the guidelines call for phones to be compliant with WAP 1.2 this year and, looking into next year, the next generation of M-Services phones should be compatible with WAP 2.0. While Openwave is adamant that the guidelines are open source and available to all, its ties with the GSM Association are likely to strengthen its competitive position. Handset manufacturers are already racing against time to get GPRS phones to customers, with several operators already having launched their services. The GSM Association wants phones that support its new standards to be in the shops for a “Christmas push.” For some handset manufacturers that could mean taking the quickest route to compliance, which would mean installing Openwave’s Internet browser on their phones. Openwave has about 65 percent of the market for Internet browsers on GSM handsets. Its closest rival is Nokia, which has supplied its own browser to about 30 percent of the market. Damir admitted that the quickest way to comply with the guidelines is to install Openwave’s browser. “If [handset manufacturers] have not been working with GPRS, then they have a challenge to get an M-Services phone out of the door. If they have not been working with our browser, then the workload is clearly much higher to try and modify the browser they are working with because some of our contributions are just being made public today.” Openwave does not receive any money when its browser is installed on a handset. Instead, it makes the vast majority of its revenues from software that resides on servers behind the wireless network. Crucially, Wednesday’s guidelines include some Openwave’s download architecture, which has both a component that sits on the handset and a component that sits on servers. Although the guidelines give enough information for any developer to produce that server-side software, an operator that wants to be up and running quickly with M-Services could find it easier to buy technology from Openwave. However, Rob Conway, chief executive of the GSM Association, stressed that the European Commission has been contacted about the guidelines and “we have had a very positive response from them.”

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