In 1997, the U.S. operator Omnipoint decided to roll out a mobile Web service. It had no idea how to go about this or which technology to deploy, so opened the process to competitive tender. Anyone who could come up with a wireless data proposal was free to submit it to Omnipoint, and to explain how it would serve the company's customers and increase revenue.

Four companies eventually took up this challenge. The cellphone vendors Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola all suggested their own variants on messaging, while Unwired Planet submitted HDML. All had their advantages, but the big disadvantage of being proprietary: Omnipoint's customers would be locked into buying phones and software from a particular supplier, similar to the way that most ...

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