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Microsoft and AT&T Wireless have inked a deal that both companies hope will boost usage of wireless data services by large companies and their mobile employees. Under the agreement, Microsoft will use AT&T's high-speed wireless networks to deliver a range of services aimed at business users armed with Microsoft's Pocket PC- or Smart Phone-based devices. The companies plan to formally launch the service later this year.
Microsoft and AT&T plan to market the offering jointly and will also collaborate on technology.
Among the first services to be made available through the deal is wireless access to Microsoft's MapPoint .Net mapping and location software. MapPoint provides geographical reference tools that let users break down corporate and sales data by region.
The deal also calls for AT&T to introduce a voice-enabled PDA based on Microsoft's Pocket PC Phone Edition later this year.
Analysts say the deal could help drive wireless sales, but note that much of the country is still not covered by the high-speed wireless networks that rich data services require. AT&T says its high-speed GSM/GPRS network will be available nationwide by the end of the year.
Microsoft and AT&T aren't the only vendors that believe the wireless enterprise market remains largely untapped. IBM and Palm Inc. recently disclosed a deal under which they will work together to help companies deploy wireless data services.
The interest in the wireless market is hardly surprising. With most IT vendors struggling to find growth, wireless represents one of the few technology markets that's far from mature.
And it's potentially lucrative. Research firm IDC estimates that the market for wireless middleware alone will reach $1.7 billion in 2006, up from $227 million last year. "Middleware is the key to unleashing the back-end apps and getting them out to wireless platforms," IDC analyst Stephen Drake says. He notes that large-enterprise independent software vendors such as SAP are already making big strides in readying their applications for a wireless market.