Sun-Netscape Alliance goes wireless

Sun-Netscape Alliance goes wireless

The Sun-Netscape Alliance on Monday unveiled the iPlanet Wireless Server, which gives service providers the ability to offer customers wireless e-mail, calendar, and directory services customised to specific devices.

Using XML-based style sheets, the Wireless Server provides device-appropriate content, formatting the information to fit a device's particular specifications, such as screen size. A plug-in for the iPlanet Messaging Server will enable sending of Short Message Service (SMS) alerts and notes to wireless devices.

"We have an SMS plug-in for our messaging store so you could send an SMS signal when an event happens; it could be as simple as 'your bill is due'," said Barbara Kay, director of product marketing for messaging and collaboration at Sun-Netscape Alliance. "You could send an SMS message that can go to a pager, a phone -- whatever service you want -- and it will reach you. That sort of follow-me service can be really helpful."

Kay added that the Wireless Server can also make use of calendar server links to provide date-specific and location-specific information -- traffic or weather reports, for example -- via wireless devices.

Currently in a beta release, the iPlanet Wireless Server supports WAP (wireless access protocol) and HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language)-enabled devices, including smart phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants), as well as standards-based browsers. According to Kay, the Wireless Server also supports mobile network protocols such as GSM (Global Services for Mobile) and CDMA (code division multiple access).

James Kobielus, an analyst at The Burton Group in Virginia, believes SMS, which is akin to two-way paging, is very important to the expansion of wireless services and applications.

"SMS is the priority in the marketplace in terms of serving data communications down to wireless clients because it's already there in most digital handsets. You get support of SMS as a native feature," Kobielus said. "Serving the SMS market is where vendors need to start in terms of supporting wireless clients."

While Sun-Netscape Alliance has garnered support from several European wireless service providers, including ePlus, Telenor, and Orange, the US continues to lag behind in wireless device usage, particularly smart phone usage. Interest in Internet-enabled devices is growing, but analyst Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at GartnerGroup, noted that the US is much more focused on broadband than wireless.

"We've had such a good wired infrastructure here that using a cell phone to do things probably kind of lets you down if you're used to a rich Internet experience and you're getting 1Mbps to the house over the Internet and then you go to a four-line-by-20-character [sized] phone and try to do Internet," said Dulaney, adding that SMS and its alert service may be most beneficial for US users.

"What you really want your phone to do is to alert you to things," Dulaney explained. "So you tell the back-end systems what you're interested in, and then these back-end systems will watch for you and tell you when things get out of kilter."

The Wireless Server will be positioned as a front-end application for existing iPlanet servers, including the iPlanet Calendar Server, Messaging Server, and Unified Messaging Server, which is expected to ship in June. However, the Wireless Server will also act as a front-end in Sun and Netscape messaging products in the carrier and service provider markets, such as the Sun Internet Mail Server (SIMS) and Netscape Messaging Server.

"They've got a ready-made market to come in and sell to," said Kobielus, noting that there are a lot of SIMS and Netscape messaging products already in the carrier market. "They've got a strong install base in terms of providing carriers with the messaging infrastructure they need. The service provider segment of the messaging market is really the fastest-growing segment of the market these days."

Sun-Netscape Alliance's Kay said that the next step for iPlanet Wireless Server will include adding wireless support for other applications.

"Within the iPlanet portfolio, the logical things would be like the Application Server, where people are developing custom transactional applications and would want to deliver information in a device-sensing fashion," Kay said. "We have a lot of enthusiastic interest from some of our financial companies who offer financial services to their customers, and they believe wireless access is a huge opportunity and want to leverage their existing investments and infrastructures but take them wireless. Communication services can be a strong way to do that."

The iPlanet Wireless Server is expected to ship in March, according to Kay.

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