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Tech Firms Seek Wireless Standard Wed Jun 12,11:37 AM ET

By BRUCE MEYERSON, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – Nearly 200 technology companies have signed on to the latest industry attempt to forge a universal wireless standard for all cell phones and handheld computers.

The Open Mobile Alliance, formally announced Wednesday, will replace the WAP Forum, whose Wireless Application Protocol is the most widely used platform for Web browsers on cell phones, but has fallen short of expectations.

Besides names like Motorola, Nokia ( news – web sites) and Vodafone, perhaps the most notable member of the new group is Microsoft Corp., which in the past has shunned many industry attempts at wireless unity. NTT DoCoMo ( news – web sites), which provides the wildly popular i-mode cellular service in Japan, is also joining the consortium.

But conspicuously absent from the alliance is Palm Computing, whose popular operating system for mobile devices still accounts for more than half of all handheld computers sold. Palm did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The new group plans to define minimum specifications for any wireless platform or application, thereby enabling compatibility and interoperability among different mobile devices regardless of the software used.

“For some of us that have been involved in mobile standards in the past few years, we haven’t done a very good job,” said Jerry Upton, Motorola vice president for standards and strategy and chairman of the WAP Forum’s board of directors.

Upton said that the new group will succeed where prior endeavors came up short by avoiding the tangle over choosing one operating system or another as a universal platform. Instead, the goal will be to develop an open standard for the software code used to create different platforms, including those designed for special purposes and private networks used by businesses.

Presently, wireless device makers, service providers and software developers use a variety of disparate operating systems and applications that can make it hard for different devices and networks to interact.

At the same time, many of these players have joined up with competing alliances, hedging their bets on which standards might likely dominate wireless computing in the same way that Windows is the dominant platform for personal computers.

“There have been so many forums ‹ about 50 of them ‹ having some involvement in our business on applications,” said Alan Cox, head of standards for Vodafone, the world’s biggest cellular company and joint-owner of Verizon Wireless. “We are very keen that these different groups need to be working together, not fighting each other.”

Microsoft has pushed its PocketPC platform as a proprietary operating system for handheld computers and a Smartphone platform for mobile handsets. Meanwhile, in Europe, a consortium that includes Nokia and Ericsson ( news – web sites), licenses an operating system for mobile devices named Symbian.

However, many of the software and services designed for those platforms are not readily compatible with WAP-based or Palm-based applications, a situation that many in the wireless industry see as an obstacle to rapid growth and profits.

The new alliance hopes that the resulting standards will accelerate the development and adoption of new services and capabilities such as multimedia messaging, game playing and entertainment.

Other groups that have agreed to merge into the new alliance include the Open Mobile Architecture initiative, the SyncML Initiative, the Location Interoperability Forum, the MMS Interoperability Group and the Wireless Village Initiative.