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It is over three years since Lou Gerstner described pervasive computing as 'a billion people interacting with a million...

It is over three years since Lou Gerstner described pervasive computing as 'a billion people interacting with a million e-businesses through a trillion interconnecting intelligent devices.'

If recent announcements by IBM, and its subsidiary Tivoli, are to be believed, then it seems that Gerstner's vision is fast becoming reality. IBM used a recent conference in Paris to unveil its strategy to make wireless communications web ready for e-business. If 1999 was a year of battening down the hatches in preparation for Y2K, then 2000 is proving to be a year of alliance-making, and the push for pervasive computing is no exception.

The initiatives outlined by IBM in Paris focused on business partnerships with the likes of mobile phone giant Nokia. At the same time, Big Blue also launched a range of related products and services, notably its WebSphere Everyplace Suite software. Mike Lawrie, general manager of IBM EMEA explains: 'As we move towards the next stage of the internet we think that it is important that all the leaders come together to ensure an open, interoperable, infrastructure.' In this way, Big Blue also revealed that it is working with communications heavyweights, such as Motorola and Cisco, as well as partnering with Ericsson, Palm, Symbian, and Intel to speed up the development of mobile e-business products.

As far as the relationship with Nokia is concerned, IBM plans to co-operate with the Finnish firm on key enabling technologies, namely the much-hyped Wireless Application Protocol (Wap). Wap is basically a specification for a set of communication protocols standardising the way that wireless devices, such as mobile phones, can be used for internet access. In IBM's brave new world of pervasive computing, a wide range of devices and systems that use Wap will be able to communicate with each other.

In a world that seems to be governed by the technical expertise of Silicon Valley, it is interesting to note that IBM has highlighted Europe as leading the Wap revolution.

In this way, the partnership between IBM and Finnish firm Nokia is designed to enable network operators, and ISPs and ASPs, to deliver wireless e-business to their customers. Ari Lehtoranta, vice president of systems integration at Nokia explains: 'By combining our knowledge of the network operator industry with IBM's enterprise capabilities, we hope to provide technologies that will, for the first time, enable the providers of wireless services to offer a powerful, scaleable, and secure solution to link a variety of devices with an enterprise's back-end data systems.'

As far as products are concerned, IBM is pinning its hopes on the WebSphere Everyplace Suite. Big Blue describes the new server software as offering the necessary 'ingredients' needed to develop and manage applications on a variety of devices. Features of the WebSphere Everyplace Suite include a transcoding facility, which can transform data into a format that is appropriate for a Wap phone. Software will ultimately be the glue that holds pervasive devices together, so it comes as no surprise that IBM and Tivoli have been very active in this area in the last few months.

A week before the Paris event, software giant Tivoli outlined its own grand plan for attacking the pervasive computing marketplace in Rome. The launch of Tivoli Device Manager (TDM) for the Palm platform of PDAs was the second major pervasive management product to be unveiled by the IBM subsidiary in the last few months, following on from the launch of Tivoli Data Manager for Retail in October of last year.

Ultimately, Tivoli claims that TDM for Palm will extend corporate IT availability from the desktop to the PDA. According to Massimo Bonciani, vice president of IBM's EMEA software group, Tivoli's vision for pervasive devices includes CRM, the management and maintenance of customer data and real-time stock control and price management.

Over at Big Blue, IBM and BT Cellnet have already collaborated on a project to add Wap to the Bank of Scotland's internet banking service. According to IBM, the bank's customers can now manage their finances via a range of channels, such as PC based internet banking, call centres, and mobile phones. Traditionally, cost was seen as one of the major barriers to pervasive computing devices, but fostering alliances with a wide range of technology alliances could be a way around this. Jan ten-Sythoff, industry analyst at research firm Frost and Sullivan says: 'There is certainly a lot of re-positioning going on behind the whole mobile field. I think there are quite a few technologies coming along now that are helping pervasive computing on its way, especially WAP.' He adds: 'There will certainly be a lot more pushing and shoving from companies to position themselves within the value chain.' With its recent announcements IBM has effectively outlined its vision for a wireless world. It remains to be seen whether Lou Gerstner's prediction will come true although the initial signs are that pervasive computing is making the leap from science fiction to science fact.

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