Wireless apps delivered via Web services

Interoperability of next-generation wireless services will hinge on the synchronisation of wireless carriers' back-end architectures -- and the standardisation of interfaces they provide to third-party developers. Increasingly, it looks as though Web services could be the glue that makes it all work together.

Microsoft recently announced it would repackage its .Net My Services platform to carriers and enterprises. So now the software giant has entered the fray with the likes of Nokia to determine how the carriers' back ends are architected, with the key issues being the management and interchange of subscriber identity, location, service preference, and billing data.

Picture this scenario: You live in San Francisco, and find yourself stuck at Boston's Logan airport. You fire up Travelocity.com Inc. on your Cingular Wireless LLC cell phone, and the first thing you see is a list of San Francisco-bound flights from Logan. Cingular knows you live in San Francisco, and that you're currently in Boston. If Cingular can seamlessly, and in real time, pass this information to Travelocity on the back end as a Web service, life is good.

The trick to doing this is trusted standards-based carrier platforms that can interoperate with third-party services providers as well as each other.

The wireless industry is suddenly very focused on avoiding fragmentation of service platforms at all levels of the stack, pursuing standards such as XHTML (Extensible HTML), MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), and Nokia's still ill-defined OMA (Open Mobile Architecture) initiative, which involves pretty much everyone except Microsoft. Java's J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) and Qualcomm Inc.'s BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) are battling it out to be the executable environment on the handset, and the winner could be some combination of the two.

Unfortunately, today's wireless service back ends are typically based on proprietary architecture. This hasn't been a problem until now, given that most carriers host all their applications (such as voicemail) inside their firewalls. Carriers tend not to deploy either .Net or J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) architectures, but rather carrier-grade environments (for reliability and scalability) based on good old Unix, Solaris, and Oracle.

This must change if carriers are to become a gateway to interoperable third-party services. And how their architectures will evolve is an open question.

Will carriers see the new My Services offering as a secret Microsoft plot to federate identity (in competition with Liberty Alliance) and tie the data back to its core Office and Explorer franchises? Or will they buy the notion of a next-generation XML data store/application server that not only allows them to quickly deploy premium services, but also allows their corporate customers to use the infrastructure to integrate their wireless services with their non-wireless, browser-based services?

Stay tuned for further developments.

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