Sun and IBM queue up wireless tracks

It's the same old song and dance. Everyone is moving toward wireless. The difference is that Monday's news comes from two of the industry's heavyweights: IBM and Sun
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

Sun Microsystems and IBM took the wraps off their wireless strategies on Monday. Although the two announcements were made separately, they were joined by their motivations to prepare for the rapidly growing wireless Web.

Sun had a flood of announcements ranging from a new business unit to a $100m investment in a venture to fund wireless companies.

News from IBM centered on new e-commerce software that will allow customers to adapt their Web sites to be used on mobile devices.

The announcements from the two heavyweights will drastically affect the landscape that until this point has been occupied by smaller companies.

"We're seeing a tremendous amount of growth in the way of companies and services in the wireless Web space," said Joe Laszlo, an analyst at a Jupiter Communications. "This is mainly because the big players have been slow to get into the market, and companies have had to turn to these smaller guys. But that all changes now."

And being late to the market isn't necessarily a handicap for the likes of Sun and IBM. Laszlo said that the market is still new enough that there is little disadvantage in arriving late because the market is still relatively young.

Wireless enterprise apps are more mature than anything in the consumer market and considering Sun and IBM have good relationships in the enterprise space, the two companies may be arriving just before the storm.

"It will be a big show-and-tell, especially for Sun in the coming years," said Jack DaQuano, senior analyst at the Hurwitz Group.

Sun announcements on Monday were much more comprehensive, including the launch of a new business unit -- the Wireless Business Group -- to be headed by vice president Ann Wettersten. It is a $100m investment in venture funding to nurture new companies, a new communications software platform, increased adoption of Java, and a preview of new technology in Sun's carrier-grade server platform targeting third-generation wireless phone networks (also called 3G networks). "Sun is helping carriers and service providers re-invent themselves to deliver new and exciting smart wireless services," said Wettersten in a news release statement.

IBM will roll out its WebSphere Everyplace Suite Service Provider Edition for carriers. The new software platform will link Web and enterprise apps to wireless networks.

"Carriers need to go from voice communications to data and transaction so customers are looking to IT vendors to provide solution," said Jon Prial director of marketing and strategy for IBM's pervasive computing division.

Both companies are laying the groundwork for services and products to help companies take advantage of networks due out in two years.

Carriers have been making major investments in 3G networks, and Sun and IBM want to provide services for those networks.

"Sun is bringing many parts of the company together and aiming their services at providers," said DaQuano. "They have set up a good structure to succeed in the Sun model and they have been successful in the past." The one disadvantage that these giants may face as they refocus to wireless-Web companies is legacy.

"These companies might have baggage from a legacy of being a larger Web and PC-centric company," said Laszlo.

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