NEC Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. formally announced Tuesday an alliance to develop common software architecture for next-generation (3G) multimedia cellular handsets.

The tieup is necessary to challenge rivals on the global market, reduce costs and shorten the time required for the development of 3G phone systems, the three companies said.

Under the agreement, the firms will design a common architecture for 3G mobile handsets, conduct debugging tests of handset software and possibly supply products such as dual-mode mobile phones of different types.

The agreement covers technological standards for handsets, not network infrastructures, and products will be sold under the respective brands used by each company.

During a news conference in Tokyo, NEC Corp. President Koji Nishigaki said the alliance marks an effort to fight against global rivals such as the Nokia Corp. group, which he says employs nearly 20,000 engineers for 3G systems development.

The NEC-Matsushita alliance promises to mobilize between 8,000 and 9,000 engineers, with 5,000 specializing in software development, Nishigaki said, stressing that quick product development and an efficient debugging process are the key to effective 3G systems.

“Now mobile handsets require functions and data-processing capability as powerful as a personal computer,” he said during the joint news conference with the Matsushita group.

Kunio Nakamura, president of Matsushita Electric Industrial, said, “The mobile communication business is the most important business for the (Matsushita) group.”

Although Matsushita Communications and NEC Corp. are the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 mobile handset makers respectively, they are still minor players on the world market. The current-generation mobile system widely used in Japan remains limited to the domestic market.

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