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Nokia Pushes Off

HANOVER, Germany -- CeBit 2004 -- Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has caused a stir at the opening day of Europe’s monster trade fair by reneging on a partnership agreement to develop push-to-talk (PTT) technology.

Last August, Nokia, LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) announced the completion of a “jointly developed” PTT over cellular (POC) specification, designed to enable interoperability among carriers and handset vendors. PTT-type technology allows people to use their phones as walkie-talkies, merely pushing a button to talk to another user or group of users [ed. note: how very exciting!].

The companies submitted this specification to the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) standards body in an effort to promote it as the de facto standard for POC (see Giants Complete PTT Spec).

Six months later, and an apparent split in the partnership has emerged. Nokia has this week announced plans to push its own pre-standard protocol, leaving the remaining trio to test their own version (see Nokia Touts PTT Initiative and Vendors Test PTT).

Johan Bergendahl, VP of marketing at Ericsson, told the Financial Times that "Nokia is pushing its own completely proprietary solution that hasn't yet been proven to be interoperable, in order to gain lead time in the market. It is not playing by the rules."

The Finnish renegade has already struck a deal with handset vendor Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), to supply the Korean company with its PTT technology within the next twelve months (see Nokia, Samsung Team on PTT).

Speaking to Unstrung today, Nokia attempted to defend its move. “In August the first version was submitted to OMA,” says Kai Konola, director of strategy and business development, "but when we took a closer look at that specification we realized some things were missing and that we couldn’t satisify existing demand for PTT with that spec."

Konola claims that Nokia’s offering “will be fully compliant with the OMA standard once it is finalized at the end of the year,” and will also support “the alternative pre-standard protocol suggested by the other members.”

The split will do little to placate industry fears that interoperability issues are the biggest stumbling block to PTT growth (see Poll: PTT Problems Ahoy! and IDC Plays Down PTT).

“I’m dismayed that key vendors are now out of step,” laments Ken Rehbehn at Current Analysis. “While it is interesting that Nokia appears to promise that it will share details of its proprietary pre-standard protocol, few details of how and when are provided. Industry fragmentation hurt the MMS rollouts -- now it looks like fragmentation might cripple the POC rollouts. When will the vendors and operators learn?”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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