SAN MATEO, Calif. Ericsson has selected Red Hat Inc. as a strategic partner to develop a range of non-PC home communication products. Ericsson hopes the move will help it expand beyond cell phone handsets into a larger consumer-electronics market such as home basestations and Web phones.
The agreement marks the first time that a major communications systems company has tapped Red Hat's embedded Linux and associated open source technologies.
Under the agreement, Red Hat will provide embedded Red Hat Linux to drive the upcoming Ericsson-designed Web Pads or Web Phones as well as home basestations designed to function as home gateway units or home servers.
Red Hat will also help Ericsson integrate Java into such home communication platforms. Further, the leading Linux provider is expected to play a key role in establishing a community of open-source and third-party developers to write applications for Ericsson's new platform.
Linux, however, is not the only operating system of choice for Ericsson. The communications systems giant has been working with other key software providers such as Symbian and Microsoft on a number of different fronts. While acknowledging Ericsson's tangled web of software partners, Kim Knutilla, general manager of services and engineering at Red Hat, said, "Ericsson's Home Communication group has selected us [Red Hat] as a strategic partner to integrate open-source, open-standard technologies such as Linux, Java and Bluetooth." Those technologies will be key building blocks for Ericsson's home communication products, he added.
Bo Albertson, marketing manager at Ericsson Mobile Communications, agreed. "This is certainly not an exclusive agreement. But there are no other companies, at this point, that we are working with as a strategic partner." Albertson said, "Ericsson and Red Hat share the same vision using open standards and open-source technologies for screen phones and other home devices." He added, "We chose Red Hat because it offers a comprehensive set of solutions and it marries all these technologies successfully."
The first product to emerge from this partnership will be the Ericsson Cordless Screen Phone, which was unveiled at CeBIT 2000 earlier this year. The Screen Phone is a single-unit cordless device that integrates a color screen, phone, answering machine, address book and message center. Consumers can use the Screen Phone to surf the Internet and download and send e-mails. They can hold it like a book while they're sitting on a couch, or hang the Web Pad on a wall if they're in the kitchen, explained Albertson. The device will eventually use Bluetooth to communicate to a home basestation connected to a public switched telephone network via digital subscriber line or cable modem. Ericsson plans to launch such a product at the end of this year.
Red Hat and Ericsson are also joining forces to develop new services for network operators. The new Ericsson/Red Hat technology partnership will make it possible for service operators to offer "a number of remote-management services across the Internet, including remote configurations, updates and repairs," said Knutilla.
Ericsson will work with Red Hat to establish open technologies such as the latest embedded Red Hat GNU development tools, which will be made freely available to developers through Red Hat's Web site.
Red Hat's software design team and Ericsson's hardware development team are already working together to integrate the initial Web Phone product, said Knutilla.