October 13, 2003, 10:46 AM — Microsoft Corp. and Vodafone Group PLC announced a partnership Monday that aims to bridge the gap between services offered over mobile networks and applications built for PCs.
The companies are developing technologies that should allow developers to write PC applications that incorporate services from wireless operators, such as determining the location of a user, authenticating their identity, accepting payments for services or sending text messages, executives at the companies said.
For example, a tow-truck company could develop a PC application that connects to a mobile network so that when a customer breaks down and calls for help from a cell phone, the towing company could quickly see the motorist's location. The operator could also send text messages from the PC to the user's mobile phone telling them when help is on the way, the executives said.
In another example, an online gaming company could link its servers to a mobile operators' billing system, using it to accept small payments from customers each time they play a game. The gaming company would benefit from not having to develop its own system for accepting "micropayments," and Vodafone would get to keep a cut of the money.
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, will present the plan alongside Vodafone executives during his keynote speech Monday at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) conference in Geneva.
Developers can use existing Web services technologies like XML (Extensible Markup Language) to link the mobile and computing worlds. But new specifications are needed to define, for example, how a GSM network's authentication system exchanges data with a PC application using Web services security protocols, said Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of Microsoft's platform strategies group.
"If an application needs to authenticate a user's identity, we need to be able to describe what those requests look like in well-behaved XML," he said.
The companies will disclose a road map for the mobile Web services specifications they plan to deliver later this month at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. They plan eventually to submit them to a standards body and hope they will be used by others in the industry. Applications that make use of mobile services should start to appear next year, Fitzgerald said.
One analyst applauded the effort but said its success depends on winning broad industry support. Major software players such as IBM Corp., as well as mobile operators such as Orange SA and T-Mobile, are "missing from the table," noted Ted Schadler, principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.