Microsoft and Vodafone link to bridge PC and mobile services

Microsoft and Vodafone have announced a partnership that aims to bridge the gap between services offered over mobile networks and...

Microsoft and Vodafone have announced a partnership that aims to bridge the gap between services offered over mobile networks and applications built for PCs.

The companies are working on technologies to allow developers to write PC applications which incorporate services from wireless operators, such as determining the location of a user, authenticating their identity, accepting payments for services or sending text messages.

For example, a breakdown company could develop a PC application that connects to a mobile network so that when a motorist breaks down and calls for help from a mobile 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.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, will present the plan alongside Vodafone executives during a keynote speech today (13 October) at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) conference in Geneva.

Developers can use existing web services technologies such as 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, according to 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 will deliver later this month at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. They plan 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, as well as mobile operators such as Orange and T-Mobile, are "missing from the table", noted Ted Schadler, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

By developing the initial specifications on their own, Microsoft and Vodafone hope to be able to work faster than if they were working with a large group of suppliers, he added.

An IBM spokesman said his company supports the effort in principle, but was critical that Microsoft and Vodafone had chosen not to work through an industry consortium such as the Open Mobile Alliance. IBM will be watching to ensure the specifications do not favour developers who use Microsoft's software and tools, said Jon Prial, a vice president with IBM's Pervasive Computing division.

Executives for Microsoft and Vodafone insisted the specifications would be independent of any supplier.

"Our aim is to involve other mobile operators and other software suppliers and to establish standards," said Ian Maxwell, director of group strategic relationships at Vodafone. "We want to work together to create this new industry."

James Niccolai and John Blau write for IDG News Service

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