Sybase, Ericsson team on WAP mobile banking apps

Sybase's mobile database unit and Swedish telecommunications equipment supplier LM Ericsson Telephone yesterday announced a new global partnership to deliver mobile banking applications on Ericsson's phones.

The banking applications will be based on WAP (wireless application protocol) and Sybase's iAnywhere Wireless Server software for deploying wireless e-business applications.

The applications will run on Ericsson mobile phones using Symbian's EPOC operating system, officials from both companies said during a Monday teleconference. The applications are designed to make it easier for customers to interface with their banks and to enable them to perform banking transactions regardless of location or time of day, the officials added.

"Online banking has taken off in the last year or so; the next revolution is online banking from anywhere at any time," Juergen Mueller, vice president of worldwide sales for Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions mobile database subsidiary, said in the teleconference.

Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions and Ericsson will collaborate on the necessary research and development at Ericsson facilities in Sweden, according to Orjan Mattsson, Ericsson's director and general manager, communications and smart phones.

The two companies are already in talks with a variety of banks in Europe and the US about the upcoming software and are hoping to release the banking applications by the middle of next year, he added. Citibank has already expressed interest in the Sybase-Ericsson product combination, Mattsson said.

The duo hope to differentiate their offering with the "always available" capabilities of Sybase's iAnywhere Wireless Server, allowing users to continue working with applications either online or offline, according to Sybase's Mueller. "You always have access to your financial profile," he said.

For example, if a user is on a train and they go out of wireless range, they can still interact with their financial profile on the Ericsson phone, Mueller explained. Any transactions they make offline will occur as soon as wireless connectivity becomes available again, he said. The applications could also enable banks to alert customers wirelessly about information pertinent to their financial profile, such as a banking account going overdrawn or a stock reaching its asking price.

Mueller drew attention to recent analyst predictions that within three years there will be 40 million users of wireless financial data worldwide, while in Europe within the same time frame, more than 70 per cent of major financial institutions will offer mobile banking applications.

The agreement earlier this year between Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia on developing a common foundation for secure mobile financial transactions should help to put to rest users' concerns about security, Ericsson's Mattsson said. The trio of phone equipment makers announced the Mobile Electronics Transaction (MeT) technology in April.

The initial platform for the mobile banking applications will be Ericsson's R380 smart phone, according to Terry Stepien, president of Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions. "We can evolve the applications to multiple device platforms as new devices appear from Ericsson," he said. The applications will first be made available as a service offering and then later as a product in their own right, being initially sold through Sybase's channels, Stepien added.

First unveiled at the CeBIT computer show in Germany last year, Ericsson's EPOC-based R380 is a dual-band mobile phone which includes PDA (personal digital assistant) capabilities, along with a touch screen and a WAP browser.

Stepien said that the mobile banking applications are likely to be followed by applications for other industry sectors. "This is the first step," he said.

The financial sector has traditionally been Sybase's key market, but the company is keen to expand its presence in other areas, such as health care.

The tie-up between Sybase and Ericsson builds on an existing business relationship between the pair stretching back more than 10 years, Mueller said.