What Does It Mean

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2003-10-14 Print this article Print

?"> But what does that actually mean? Apart from optimistic determination, theres no clear answer from either Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, or Ian Maxwell, group strategic relationship director of Vodafone. What they said was that they had "a vision of providing developers with access to mobile services using industry-standard Web services techniques and tools." So, when Microsoft and Vodafone "called upon the industry to embrace this approach" to bring about the convergence of PC and mobile applications and services through Web services standards, what mobile applications, exactly, do they want us to embrace? When they also announced their "plans to detail a technical roadmap of the mobile Web services specifications on which they intend to collaborate and seek industry engagement," was this more than just plans to have plans?
When Vodafones Maxwell says "the agreement between Microsoft and Vodafone, extends the reach of our services to customers who may not have mobile devices," what Vodafone services, specifically, would be useful to the desktop user, or the server manager? Is this a really useful idea?
The answer looks like "Yes!"—but despite attempts at detailed analysis by several observers, theres nothing of substance from either company, yet, to support that judgement. Just warm, fuzzy-friendly phrases, like: "The companies efforts will help expand commercial opportunities for developers to further promote their applications and enable solutions that work seamlessly across PC and mobile environments," as it said in the official hand-out released before Bill Gatess speech at the ITU conference in Geneva. There are mentions of "payment network services" on Microsofts web site for the Professional Developers Conference. This isnt the first such XML-based collaboration Microsoft has initiated. Its corporate Web services link with IBM has been judged as a powerful initiative by many observers. In their judgement, it has worked. If the new plan works, "customers will be able to use mobile Web services from multiple devices on both wired and wireless networks." Well, thats purpose of the plan. Were unlikely to know the details of it, even after the company presents its White Paper to the Professional Developer Conference in LA later this month. And even when we have details, it will still be an act of faith to judge whether it is a viable plan. Here are some questions which Ive heard asked, and which Microsoft is welcome to take on board as suggestions:
  • Will Vodafone give phone number access over the Internet to subscribers when they are in their office?
  • Will Microsoft Office be able to track where its users are, and adjust their data feed to the available bandwidth and latency?
  • Will the concept of "seamless roaming" extend from desktop to board-room to street to automobile to airplane to home den?
  • Will directory services be able to track a user who appears to be using three devices simultaneously, in two different locations?
Too much depends on how far into the future the partners are looking. A plan made for todays network would have to cope with the extreme latencies and unreliable bandwidth of 2.5G phone data, which is rarely faster than 28 kilobits per second, often sees delays of up to eight seconds between ping and pong, and on which the concept of "quality of service" is as appropriate as the concept of football on a tightrope. But if theyre looking just two years into the future, where theres a reasonable expectation of widespread 3G data networking and the chance of initial 4G broadband wireless rollouts, then the barrier between fixed and mobile will have dissolved more than somewhat. Then, they can really let their imaginations run riot. The White Paper at the PDC should be a popular download. Particularly, I suspect, to people sitting at terminals inside Symbian, Palm, and the other phone network providers.


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