HP has launched software for mobile operators to update handset software over the air. The tool, called Mobile Device Management (MDM) will ultimately let IT managers, control the devices in employees pockets, as tightly as they control the PCs on their desks.

The tool goes beyond existing systems used for over-the-air updates, according to Joy King, director of HP's service-provider solutions business. MDM lets carriers distribute updated versions of enterprise software and even new applications to high-powered mobile devices. HP expects operators to use it first for consumer phone upgrades, but will also help enterprise customers, King said.

Enterprises are starting to deploy productivity applications in the field using advanced data-capable phones (see Mobility goes beyond e-mail, for instance). Unfortunately, they want to control the new devices as tightly as PCs, but they are constantly in employees' hands on the road.

With MDM, service providers can help enterprise customers, said King, by sending new software, such as an operating system upgrade or a homegrown sales force automation application, quickly to many devices over the cellular network. The system can also make it easier for consumers to download software to personalise their handsets or add capabilities such as multimedia messaging, she added. Those upgrades, as well as fixes for phone software bugs, could be handled over the air instead of by visiting a shop. .

MDM, which includes applications from Gemplus, InnoPath and mFormation Technologies, is part of HP's mobile Service Delivery Platform (SDP), which includes software, hardware, consulting and integration services for operators. MDM and similar technologies are being deployed at SK Telecom in South Korea, Vodafone in The Netherlands and TeliaSonera in Sweden.