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MWC 2011: Microsoft & Nokia Court Carriers

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2011 -- Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) are vying to be the third mobile platform ecosystem, alongside Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Android, in large part by being the most operator-friendly option.

"The mobile operator can add value over and above connectivity and distribution and customer service," CEO Steve Ballmer told MWC attendees in his keynote address Monday. "Windows Phone will continue to be the best place for mobile operators to add value."

Microsoft announced a number of improvements to Windows Phone 7 that will help its lofty goal on the software end. These include Internet Explorer 9 for all WP7 smartphones, multitasking for third-party applications, support for Microsoft Office documents in the cloud and Twitter integration.

Nokia also has had a long-standing relationship with operators all over the world, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop added after joining Ballmer on stage. "We understand what it means to work with them and understand what we have to do," he said, although he admitted his company has struggled in the U.S.

In the U.S., AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US Inc. have carried several WP7 devices since the OS launched last fall, and Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) will both offer CDMA versions soon.

While the companies have spent a lot of time hashing out the benefits Microsoft will provide to Nokia, Ballmer also used his keynote to let people know it's a two-way relationship. He said that the maps and location-based technology Nokia has built will be used broadly on any device Bing is used in, including phones, PCs and TVs. Elop also added that Microsoft will take advantage of Nokia's strength in operator billing.

Why this matters
Nokia and Microsoft understand that wireless operators are one of the three major groups they'll have to attract in order to have a shot at creating a third mobile platform. Developers and consumers make up the other two, and all three are going to be a hard sell. Ballmer has repeatedly said that the consumers who own WP7 devices find them to be "a delight," but so far the company has struggled to gain market share. (See MWC 2011: How Will Nokia Maintain Market Share?)

For more
For more analysis on Nokia and Microsoft's partnership, check out the following stories.



— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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