GENEVA, Switzerland Perhaps the most overused word so far at the ITU Telecom World Conference has been "ubiquitous," a term that has overtaken "convergence" as the latest buzzword for the computer, consumer electronics and telecommunications industries.
Nonetheless, as cellular networks, Wi-Fi hotspots and Web services proliferate, software companies, startups and giants like Microsoft Corp. alike are discovering growing demand for new software that could help operators offer applications that are more accessible either from PCs, tablet PCs, PDAs or mobile handsets. The challenge is how to make the right information available to ubiquitous computing devices.
In his keynote speech here, Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., pitched the company?s .NET strategies based on XML Web services. "Through the magic of software," operators or service providers can move databases, back-end applications, and vertical services "from one place to another, extending Web services to mobile devices," Gates claimed.
He said Microsoft will help telecom operators offer branded Wi-Fi access, mobile and voice-over-IP services accessible by PCs, mobile handsets or fixed-line phones.
Gates also announced a new partnership with Vodafone under which the two companies will work together to make it easier to develop Web services on PCs and to port their efforts to mobile devices. Ian Maxwell, strategic relationship director at Vodafone Group Services, said the collaboration with Microsoft is based on industry-standard XML-based Web services. By enabling access to Web services either from mobile or from PC, the two companies said they hop to "offer common experiences for PCs and mobile devices," Maxwell said.
Gates said Microsoft has doubled its research budget to $6 billion in 2003, compared to $3 billion in 1999 to help drive the merger of PCs and telecommunications.
Meanwhile, Appear Networks, a startup based in Stockholm, promoted its application platform for Wi-Fi networks here. The platform is designed for service providers to wirelessly offer "the right application, at the right location, at the right time."
Speaking on a panel entitled "Ubiquitous communications, Xavier Aubry, director of international business development at Appear Networks, said, "What's missing in today's Wi-Fi network is an intelligent middleware, or context-aware software." Despite a growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots, "what's extremely frustrating is its user experience," he added. Through its application platform, Appear Networks plans to offer context-aware service discovery and provisioning.
The context-aware service is "a way to match who you are, what device you have, what capability it has, what time it is now and where your exact location is" to create a context so that service providers can offer information most relevant to a consumer using a hotspot, for example.
Appear Networks' system does not use GPS. Instead, it uses the Wi-Fi network to locate users. "By combining the signal strength, network calibration and probability algorithm, we will find out the location," Aubry said. A small client software package of about 100 Kbytes would be installed in a Wi-Fi-enabled handheld device to send context information back to a back-end server, he explained.
For now, Appear Networks is focused on developing vertical applications on hotspots. Working with Stockholm Local Transportation Authority, Appear Networks enables its employees using a PDA with Wi-Fi connectivity to quickly access relevant information.
The "Wi-Fi business model based on pure access is not profitable," Aubry said. "What you need is more than connectivity to offer value-added services."