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Openwave, Synchronica sell out mobile messaging businesses

The two acquisitions mark consolidation in a challenging industry hitched to feature phones

Two mobile messaging software businesses -- Openwave's Mediation and Messaging units and Synchronica -- were sold on Monday in a sign of consolidation for that industry.

OpenWave announced it had agreed to sell its Mediation and Messaging businesses to private equity firm Marlin Equity Partners for an undisclosed sum. Marlin plans to rename the divisions Openwave Mobility and Openwave Messaging. Also on Monday, Myriad Group said it had completed its acquisition of Synchronica, which provides mobile messaging services under carriers' brands, for 23.9 million pounds (about US$38 million).

Built-in messaging software is a bigger business on feature phones than on smartphones, which are backed by app stores, said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. There is still demand for such software, especially in developing countries, but the business is consolidating, he said. Smartphones have been seizing a rapidly growing share of the handset market, especially in more affluent countries. A Nielsen Mobile Insights survey in February said 49.7 percent of mobile phones in the U.S. were smartphones and smartphone use had grown 38 percent from a year earlier.

Messaging companies also serve as clearinghouses between carriers, but that is a heavily volume-based business that may soon be dominated by a few bigger providers, such as Sybase 365, he said.

Synchronica, based in the U.K., acquired Nokia's white-label mobile messaging business last June for $25 million. That business provides the software behind email and mobile messaging services that are sold under the brands of more than 100 carriers worldwide, Myriad said. It also provides messaging software built into phones from 25 manufacturers, the company said in a press release.

Nokia sold off that business as it shifted its focus to the Windows Phone platform. Under the Nokia deal, Synchronica also was to continue supplying the messaging software on Nokia's Series 40 feature phones. Most of the price that Nokia and Synchronica agreed on was to be in deferred payments, and in its effort to acquire Synchronica beginning last November, Myriad Group argued that Synchronica would not be able to make those payments on its own.

Myriad is based in Switzerland and supplies a wide range of mobile software, including browsers, messaging tools and multimedia applications, to carriers and handset makers. The company claims 2.5 billion mobile users rely on its software. Following the acquisition of Synchronica, Myriad will see its software installed on more than 100 million new devices each year.

Openwave, which pioneered the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) used in the early days of mobile data, will rename itself Unwired Planet and focus on intellectual property after the transaction. The company will remain publicly traded. It owns about 200 issued patents and has about 75 patents pending, according to a press release. Marlin Equity Partners, based in Hermosa Beach, California, said it would invest in both Openwave Mobility and Openwave Messaging to keep delivering software to their customers.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is [email protected]


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