Vodafone, Oracle, build SMS into app server

Oracle and Vodafone Group will extend the potential reach of Web services to millions more mobile phones next month, by connecting Oracle 10g Application Server to Vodafone's SMS (Short Message Service) system through a Web services interface, the companies announced Wednesday.

A sample application at the OracleWorld conference and exhibition in Paris demonstrated how a call center can transmit appointment requests from clients to sales staff via SMS, and then automatically update a group calendar, based on their acceptance or rejection of the appointment. Such functionality is useful in sales force automation programs or informing field engineers of work schedule changes while on the job.

Sending SMS text messages to mobile phones from an enterprise network is nothing new, but has until now involved writing custom software and leasing a dedicated telecommunications link to connect the application with the mobile network.

"If I have field workers and I want to send them alerts, I have always been able to send them SMSs. Until this announcement, they would have had to build an SMS gateway. Many businesses didn't do it as the cost was too high," said Jacob Christfort, chief technology officer of Oracle's mobile division.

Now that can all be done over a simple Internet connection: Vodafone has packaged the necessary access to its network as a Web service based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), and Oracle has built an API (application programming interface) for the service into Oracle 10g Application Server, so that application developers can write code to send and receive SMS text messages much as they would interact with any other Web-enabled service, the companies said.

Users of such services will pay Vodafone's standard SMS tariff, according to Rikke Helms, mobile office director at Vodafone Global Products & Services.

But the price paid by businesses to send an SMS using Oracle 10g Application Server's built-in functions is irrelevant, Christfort said, compared to "the millions of dollars that they would have paid to systems integrators. Vodafone could double the cost (of the SMS traffic) because of the cost this will cut off the front."

With built-in functionality like that, supporting mobile applications is a no-brainer for businesses, according to one analyst.

"Mobile sales force automation brings such quick returns, it's hard to see why they would not do this," said Lars Vestergaard, research manager for European wireless and mobile communications at IDC.

A real bonus is that this works with existing handsets, he said. Businesses developing sales force automation applications with Oracle 10g can extend access to their database to workers equipped only with an SMS-capable mobile phone, with no need for browser functions like WAP (Wireless Applications Protocol) or high-speed data services like GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), over the Vodafone network.

Vodafone will initially allow businesses to connect to its network through the Web service interface in Australia, New Zealand and eight European countries. Mobile workers roaming on any Vodafone partner network worldwide will be able to send and reply to the messages, however, Helms said.

Oracle's use of the code necessary to access the API is nonexclusive, said Janine Young, group communications manager at Vodafone Group Services. "We will be talking to other parties about it," she said. Those talks could involve companies such as SAP.

SMS is only the start of it, according to Vodafone.

"We have developed a roadmap that will allow us to do more advanced things in the future, taking advantage of location-based services and multimedia services," said Helms.

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