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Wireless Alliance Countering Wintel Threat

A group of tech companies Tuesday forged an alliance to make sure Microsoft and Intel can't corner the mobile and phone market the same way they have with PCs.

Finland-based cell phone maker Nokia and chip designer ARM said they are joining Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics to officially form the Mobile Industry Processor Interface (MIPI) Alliance. The non-profit group says it wants others in the mobile industry to join and support open standards to accelerate adoption of application-rich mobile products. The standards are designed to improve how multimedia looks and runs on 2.5G and 3G mobile phones, PDAs and other mobile devices.

MIPI's formats will be based on the OMAPI standard launched by ST and TI in December 2002. That platform is based on TI's OMAP technology -- a combination of processors, software and third-party developer support including high-level OSes such as Java (J2ME), Linux, Microsoft Windows CE, Palm OS and Symbian OS.

Nokia had previously expressed interest in OMAPI, which is entering its second phase of development.

"We see the MIPI Alliance as an excellent forum to speed up development and time to market for mobile multimedia devices by defining open standards for application interfaces," said Jari Pasanen, Vice President, Nokia Mobile Phones. "This means that Nokia, and other hardware manufacturers, can deploy interoperable building blocks faster and at a lower cost."

As part of the plan, ARM, ST and TI will upgrade their separate platform environments to be compliant with the MIPI standards

And while the companies are denying a coup of the wireless marketplace, the alliance is a direct counter attack to advances by both Microsoft and Intel , which have made several inroads to spread the powerful Wintel message into devices like Smartphones and PDAs.

Analysts say making the MIPI Alliance both a non-profit and based on open standards is part of that strategy.

"Mobile device users and wireless carriers are demanding a rapidly changing set of features and functions," said IDC senior analyst Allen Leibovitch. "Standards like the MIPI Alliance can allow mobile device manufacturers and their semiconductor and software providers to more easily combine their best components and features and bring compelling products to market in a shorter time."

MIPI founders say the Alliance will complement existing standards bodies such as the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and 3GPP. While these organizations focus on services and air interfaces, respectively, the MIPI Alliance is focused on microprocessors, peripherals and software interfaces.

The plan is to establish 10 working groups will be established to develop specifications in key areas such as camera and display interface, software abstraction, communications interface and system control. "In order to facilitate the success of the mobile services market, industry leaders must work together to establish open standards and specifications," said TI Vice President and WW OMAP General Manager Alain Mutricy said in a statement.

The Alliance said it is also actively recruiting member companies such as handset manufacturers, semiconductor companies, hardware peripheral manufacturers, operating system (OS) vendors, middleware vendors and software application developers to help define and promote the adoption of the new standard. The group says it expects to announce new members in the third quarter of 2003.

Ironically, London-based Symbian has yet to signal its intent to join the group, despite its addition of TI's wireless OMAP platform into Symbian's Platinum Partner Program. The company has a long-standing relationship with Dallas-based TI, which was one of the earliest semiconductor companies to use Symbian OS on its OMAP platform.