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Standard 3G Platform Sought

Six international mobile vendors and service providers have teamed up in a bid to create a common platform for GSM-based phones that can run over a wide variety of 2G and 3G networks while delivering some serious multimedia muscle in a small package.

The group working on the project includes Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Tokyo: 6503), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Renesas Technology Corp. , Sharp Electronics Corp. , and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications . The world's No. 1 GSM phone vendor, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), is not part of the development effort.

By implementing the platform, the mobile phone manufacturers say, they hope "to eliminate the need to develop common handset functions." This should reduce development time and costs on standard features, allowing the vendors to get handsets to market more quickly and spend more time developing advanced features for their phones.

Most of the initial development work for the project has gone on in Japan. The platform will use the SH-Mobile G3, a single chip with a baseband processor that supports 3G connectivity -- such as HSDPA and WCDMA -- as well 2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE links. The chip also has an onboard application processor to add "high-end multimedia functions." This will be bundled with a reference design integrating audio, power supply, and RF front-end modules.

The common software for the platform will also include support for an operating system -- such as the Symbian Ltd. OS -- device drivers, middleware, and communication code. The work on the platform is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2008.

In theory, creating a common platform using a small system-on-a-chip that supports a variety of connectivity options (although no WiFi) and fast multimedia should be a step towards building the small, cheap, and cool cellphones of the future. Development costs could become even more important than they are now as more phones are sold at cheaper prices into markets such as China and India. This latest effort, however, is one of a long line of efforts in the industry to standardize as many features as possible -- some successful, some not.

Basic connectivity standards such as GSM, CDMA, WiFi, and Bluetooth have had the most success in garnering broad industry support. The Symbian Ltd. operating system could also be seen as a successful collaboration -- although Nokia has tended to be in the driver's seat -- since it created the most popular cellphone OS in the world.

Opening up features to the wider industry, however, seems less popular. In 2002, Nokia pushed the open source nature of its Symbian-based Series 60 smartphone platform and managed to create more of a developer community around it. Ericsson built its own code using the platform, but Nokia didn't gather much more smartphone vendor support.

There have also been a couple of tries at developing a common Linux platform for smartphones. The latest is a push by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and NTT DoCoMo to create a reference Linux-based mobile-phone OS. (See Penguin Goes Mobile.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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