Page last updated at 03:01 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 04:01 UK

IBM banks on mobile with $100m

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

poster of someone on the mobile
Mobility is the name of the game for IBM

Mobile communications are being eyed as the next prize for IBM which announced it is investing $100m (£62m) in research over the next five years.

Big Blue plans to target its investment at people who use their mobile phone to go online rather than their PC.

It said that 83% of the world does not have easy access to a computer.

"Mobile devices are gradually becoming ubiquitous and helping us transcend many boundaries," said IBM's Dr Guruduth Banavar who is based in India.

"With high penetration, simple user interface, and significant cost advantage for end users, mobile telephony holds the future of communication and exchange of information."

Kevin Fitchard, senior editor at TelephonyOnline, told the BBC: "This shows IBM is committed to this space.

"While everyone knew IBM was working in wireless already, this money says it is not a sideline project for the company and that they are banking on wireless as part of their future."

Business applications

At GigaOm.com, Stacey Higginbotham said that IBM's play in the market will help firms look seriously at using mobile phones for more business applications.

"Big Blue does have street cred among enterprise customers to push mobile platforms for corporate computing in a big way if it so chooses," she said.

"Currently, mobile innovation is primarily benefitting consumers, who can use mobile devices to read books, find out the name of songs, shop and even track their fitness goals.

"Enterprise adoption of novel applications and phones, meanwhile, is still lagging over concerns about corporate security. IBM could help change that."

IBM said mobile phones now outnumber traditional telephones and the opportunities for growth in mobility are enormous.

iPhone in someone's hand
IBM is aiming to develop easy-to-use services

According to Big Blue's Institute for Business Value, the number of mobile users will grow by 191% from 2006 to 2011 to reach roughly one billion users.

Emerging markets like India and China will be a main area of focus for the company.

A pilot the company has set up in Southern India is aimed at helping consumers and small business owners find and share internet information via their cell phones.

People in the programme speak into their phones to grab content, so web-enabled smartphones are not even needed.

Two other areas IBM will concentrate on include mobile enterprise enablement and enterprise end-user mobile experiences.

Rebranding?

As a multi-national computer technology and IT consulting corporation, does this research project point to a subtle rebranding of IBM?

"Apple last year said we are no longer Apple Computer because we do so much more than that," points out Kevin Fitchard.

"I think IBM is doing a little of the same thing here saying even though we are associated with the enterprise space we think there is huge promise in this. So this $100m is a big commitment."

GigaOm's Ms Higginbotham sees things differently and says that the amount IBM is investing in this research is "piddling" and that it spent $1bn on its green effort.

"Such an investment is unlikely to change the industry," she said.



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