Microsoft Smartphone connects down under

Australia's Optus is to roll out a variation on Orange's Microsoft-powered SPV, adding a new backer for the Windows Smartphone project
Written by James Pearce, Contributor

Australia's Optus on Tuesday teamed up with Microsoft to release a GPRS handset based on Microsoft's Windows for Smartphones software, giving Microsoft another backer for its mobile phone plans.

The Qtek7070 handset uses the Windows CE-based Smartphone operating system to bring Internet Explorer, Outlook and Instant Messenger to the mobile, in an attempt to replicate the desktop user experience as closely as possible.

Microsoft is playing catch-up to some extent in the nascent wireless data industry. A number of wireless devices from vendors such as Palm and Handspring use the Palm OS, while handset giants such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Siemens and Samsung are releasing devices based on the Symbian OS. Research in Motion has also carved out a niche in some countries with its BlackBerry wireless handheld computer.

T-Mobile recently backed off from plans to introduce a Windows smartphone for the German market, citing software problems. However, UK operators such as O2 and Orange are selling Windows CE-based wireless devices.

Optus hopes to stimulate mobile data usage with this phone, and has reduced its GPRS pricing to half a cent (about 0.2 pence) per kilobyte to encourage customers to use the service. Optus is also offering a portal site with links to Web content tailored to mobile devices.

This also marks a departure from the strategy of the other mobile carriers, who have created "walled garden" portals of their own content. Optus has said its strategy is to provide a service and let other people provide the content.

Although Optus plans to trial a 3G network later this year, Optus Mobile managing director Allen Lew confirmed the telecommunications company had no plans to launch a commercial 3G network at this stage.

Microsoft managing director Steve Vamos said the operating system had been launched in mobile phones in several countries, beginning with the UK in September of last year. "Optus is the second largest mobile operator in the world to launch this," said Vamos. "It's important to us because we want to work with tier-one operators."

"This is a clear example of what Microsoft means by .NET and where we're heading with Web Services...seamless integration between devices," said Vamos.

Instead of teaming with a brand-name handset supplier, Microsoft and Optus are dealing with contract manufacturer High Tech Computer (HTC), which also manufactures O2's xda and Orange's SPV (sound, pictures, video), both based on Microsoft software. The Qtek7070 is, in fact, nearly identical in appearance to the SPV.

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