CoreMedia: first mover or early adopter?
CoreMedia has recently announced to deliver a secure client DRM-implementation for wireless devices. It is promoted to support interoperability between the Open Mobile Alliance’s (OMA) and Microsoft’s DRM systems. Due to the company’s Multi-DRM technology, files can be moved from mobile phones to PCs. A plug-in for Windows Media Player allows playback of OMA DRM protected songs on PCs (CoreMedia Press Release 2005).

Other companies have signed similar agreements with Microsoft earlier this year. In February 2005, Microsoft and Nokia announced mutual technological support, as did Microsoft and Philips in May 2005.

OMA and Microsoft DRM
The OMA is an industry forum composed of fee-paying content owners, hardware and software providers, telecom companies, mobile carriers and manufacturers, and technological enablers. CoreMedia, Microsoft, Nokia and Philips all are members of this body. OMA’s standard is open in that all stakeholders are invited to join and contribute to technology development, issue statements and test for interoperability on so-called TestFests. According to CoreMedia’s website, its OMA DRM-based solution is implemented by major carriers and mobile music portals such as Vodafone.

Microsoft’s DRM 10 system is proprietary and heavily integrated into its multimedia software (Windows Media Player), its upcoming operating system (dubbed Vista) and its PlaysForSure interoperability program. Devices featuring the PlaysForSure logo are interoperable with download music stores delivering content protected with Microsoft DRM.

DRM 10 rests on patents held by ContentGuard, in which Microsoft holds a minority stake. The DRM-system is pitched as a security and delivery platform both for PCs and portable devices. But to date there is only a limited range of smartphones playing WMA-files: namely the Audiovox SMT 5600, Motorola MPx200 and Samsung i600 / i700 (however, there are almost 60 mobile phones that run Windows Mobile OS).

Both DRM systems use an XML-based Rights Expression Language (REL): XrML in the case of Microsoft and Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL) respectively. The languages are very similar to each other, although ODRL "is focused more specifically on publishing and media applications" (Rosenblatt 2003).

In collaboration with Microsoft
Nokia: After having launched its own mobile music portal solution for mobile carriers, Nokia announced that its handsets will be interoperable with Windows XP based PCs. The technology partners have agreed on long-term, non-exclusive collaboration. Nokia’s music-oriented handsets will support Microsoft’s DRM 10 and Media Transfer Protocol (MTP). Windows Media Player will playback OMA DRM-protected files as well as MPEG’s AAC codec.

Philips: Only three months after the deal between Microsoft and Nokia, Philips announced an agreement with the company from Redmond, which is also long-termed and non-exclusive. According to a press release, "Philips plans to support Microsoft Windows Media Audio and Video and Windows Media Digital Rights Management 10 (DRM) in its Nexperia family of multimedia semiconductors" (cf. sources). It is also "committed to obtaining PlaysForSure verification" for its products. The Nexperia Mobile Cellular System Solutions are especially designed for mobile handsets and also supports mp3 audio format. Philips claims that 150 million Nexperia-based systems are on the market and one-tenth of GSM / GPRS-handsets use a Nexperia solution (cf. sources).

Who benefits?
Consumers: Without doubt, consumers benefit from DRM-interoperability. They want to transfer music purchased with their mobile handset to their PCs and even accept to pay a premium for this service (Dufft et. al. 2005). So far, this is a one-way street, as CoreMedia’s technology does not allow transfer from PC to mobile device. To develop the technology for transferability in the other direction is the responsibility of the wireless developers, says Willms Buhse, CoreMedia’s head of marketing.

But portable devices’ popularity does not rest on their capability of handling DRM-protected music. Players like Apple’s iPod are successful because consumers convert audio files into (DRM-free) mp3s – this is one of the results of the INDICARE consumer survey. DRM-interoperability is a step in the right direction, but it leaves some fundamental problems of mobile digital distribution unresolved – consumers may still feel restricted when it comes to their perceived legitimate usage rights.

Microsoft: Part of the software vendor’s strategy is to establish the PC as the center of home entertainment, and interoperability helps achieve that goal (cf. sources). The strategic partnerships can also be considered a challenge to Apple’s announcement of cooperating with Motorola and the company’s dominance in the music download market via iTunes.

OMA: The agreements are an official recognition of Microsoft’s market position and DRM-technology (LeClaire 2005). At the same time, they show that OMA DRM may not yet be the uncontested DRM-standard. This can partially be blamed on the licensing structure proposed by MPEG LA that has so far not been accepted by the market, especially not by the wireless vendors (MPEG LA is a private company bundling and licensing the necessary patents for OMA DRM systems). If these quarrels do not come to a quick resolution, the standard’s success might be severely threatened.

Wireless vendors: Nokia reaps benefits both as a manufacturer of mobile handsets and as content distributor. Interoperability with stationary devices increases the value of handsets and content. The moves are also in accordance with Philips’ Connected Planet vision that intents to enable consumers to access content wherever and whenever they wish (cf. sources). As is the case with Nokia, the value of their products rises the more choice they give their users. Being on terms with Microsoft also give vendors additional leverage negotiating fees with MPEG LA (cf. Wichmann 2005).

Apple: The company from Cupertino seems to lose in the short run. Once the repeatedly announced but still withheld collaboration with Motorola yields an actual iTunes-enabled mobile phone, it should provide at least the same degree of interoperability with OMA DRM.

Bottom line
The agreements hold benefits for consumers, device-manufacturers and digital enablers alike. They provide transferability between mobile and stationary devices, which is partially inherent in the respective DRM technologies that both rely on XML-based RELs. But in order to really benefit the consumer, there must also be transferability from PC to mobile device. Although OMA DRM is dominating distribution of mobile content, it is not uncontested. Agreements with Nokia and Philips acknowledge the leadership Microsoft has gained at least in the desktop DRM-environment. It remains to be seen if Microsoft will gain ground in the mobile environment. Wireless vendors, software developers and online distributors seem to have realized the limits of the "walled garden" principle of locking in their customers.

Sources

About the author: After having graduated from University of Mannheim (Business Administration), Philipp Bohn has joined Berlecon Research as Junior Analyst. He is a member of the INIDICARE-team. Contact: pb@berlecon.de

Status: first posted 26/08/05; licensed under Creative Commons
URL: http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=135