Updated from July 30
announced a wide-reaching pact with
this morning to provide customers with a range of corporate services in a deal that will become a benchmark for future Microsoft agreements with wireless carriers.
Today's agreement is more involved than Microsoft's earlier partnerships with carriers. As part of the deal, AT&T Wireless will begin selling Microsoft Windows-powered devices -- PocketPC Phone Edition PDAs and Smartphones -- that will enable corporate users to tap directly into Microsoft Exchange-based information including access to calendars, contacts and Outlook e-mail. In addition, it's one of the first deals with a carrier to offer .Net location-based services on devices that will let corporations pinpoint users of these devices. These services and devices will be available later this year as AT&T Wireless continues to upgrade its market to provide GSM and GPRS 2.5G services.
"We think until now it hasn't been easy enough for mobile professionals to master the technology of having wireless data go with you," said AT&T Wireless CEO John Zeglis in a conference call this morning. "Today's announcement is about changing that, to simplify the way companies provide wireless data services to customers."
It's the third major deal of its kind, and one of the most important on these shores for the software giant in an ongoing turf battle with handset giant
. Since the spring, when Microsoft officially entered the wireless fray, the two companies and its allies have been jostling for the industry's favor, with Microsoft as the underdog, analysts say, against an entrenched giant with decades of relationships with wireless carriers around the world.
This deal adds another ally into Microsoft's arsenal of carrier partners, which include a global partnership with
T-Mobile wireless services worldwide (and operates under the VoiceStream brand in the U.S.), the nation's No. 1 carrier Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between
, and, on a less in-depth level,
and Cingular, a joint venture between
Such deals are Microsoft's best shot at bringing its devices, including those made by Taiwan's
High Tech Computer Corp
, that run Microsoft operating system, PocketPC Phone Edition, to the hand of consumers. VoiceStream is also prepared to launch devices made by the Taiwanese company to subscribers this summer. Executives today said specific device announcements will be made later in the year. Distribution of these devices have been a sticking point for the company as it attempts to persuade carriers to also begin selling Microsoft Windows-powered products alongside incumbents Nokia,
What's different from all prior deals and perhaps more important to Microsoft's long-term goals is the corporate software component of the venture. Unlike Microsoft's partnerships with Verizon Wireless or Sprint PCS, which provide for portal services and distribution of devices and which largely target consumers, this deal lets Microsoft offer its breadth of software services beyond the phone or PDA. The deal will provide laptop users direct access to Microsoft Exchange data through a one-button wizard in the toolbar that will allow AT&T Wireless customers to update their calendars, download email and send messages to other users. It's a defining feature -- to attack the market from a software perspective -- for the company that strikes a stark contrast in strategy to Nokia.
Nokia, which sells one out of three phones around the world, has been busy since late last year rallying handset allies around the Symbian operating system, developed by a consortium of handset competitors including
. To date, Nokia has struck agreements with
(owners of the Panasonic brand) to license the company's own graphic user interface, the Series 60, which rides on top of the core Symbian system.