Two years ago, when it expanded into the United States, T-Mobile International AG made a bet that the mobile phone market would explode with new business opportunities. That bet paid off, and now the subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, in Bonn, Germany, has 82 million subscribers worldwide.
Now T-Mobile is placing a new bet on the potential of Web services to make it easier for external providers of content such as stock and weather updates to tie into its network, increasing revenue opportunities and enriching services for consumers. That bet, too, seems well on its way to paying off. The companys Web services development project—in which the company has invested $3.17 million—today connects more than 5 million mobile customers in Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom to 250 content providers.
“Consumers are now having some traction for these types of mobile services, and the growth in the market is really starting to take off,” said Hossein Moiin, chief architect and director of technology for T-Mobile International Data Services, in London. “Our ability to support a large number of partners doing a reasonably involved level of integration demonstrates that the Web services model can work.”
To fully integrate external content providers, T-Mobile needed to do more than just link phone users to the content itself. The company also needed to integrate content providers with T-Mobile systems providing services such as billing, identity management and localization for content customization. That way, T-Mobile could not only offer consumers consistent access to feature-rich third-party applications and services, it could also keep a record of transactions and, for example, handle customer billing itself.
Interoperability would be key to T-Mobiles success because the company would be dealing with a wide variety of far-flung content partners running on different computing platforms, such as Java, Perl, PHP and Microsoft Corp. languages. Initially, the company considered using middleware such as BEA Systems Inc.s Tuxedo and IBMs MQ Series Integrator to accomplish the integration. But Mike Glendinning, a consultant for T-Mobile in London who heads the companys Web services initiatives, preferred the flexibility of XML and the platform-neutral aspects of Web services.
“Part of the goal of using Web services was to put as few constraints on content providers as possible,” said Glendinning. “We had to be aggressive about interoperability because most of the content partners deal with other mobile operators. The easier it is for them to connect to us, the larger the network we have.”
With hundreds of content providers to work with, Glendinning decided he wanted to use a Web services tool kit that supported WSDL (Web Services Description Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) because of the standards maturity, reliability and ease of use. At the end of 2001, T-Mobile deployed WASP (Web Applications and Services Platform) Developer 4.0 and WASP Server Advanced for Java 4.0, from Systinet Corp. WASP Server provides a run-time framework for T-Mobiles Web services including data mapping, security, administration and Java 2 Enterprise Edition integration. WASP Developer, a plug-in extension for Java integrated development environments, enables the development, debugging, testing and deployment of T-Mobiles Web services. Both run on top of BEAs WebLogic 6.1 application server deployed on a variety of Unix systems. (For reviews of Version 4.5 of the Systinet platform and the BEA WebLogic Workshop 2.0 beta, click here.)
To connect to T-Mobiles services, content providers are responsible for developing their own SOAP client interfaces. T-Mobile supervises the connection of the content providers and conducts integration testing. It typically takes from one to five days to develop and test the basic integration required to access the T-Mobile online services, Glendinning said.
The Web services allow T-Mobile to provide users with features from third parties such as stock updates, e- commerce and itemized billing. When a T-Mobile user launches a mobile application, the content provider makes a SOAP call to T-Mobile to access the customers profile, authenticate the user and activate T-Mobiles billing Web service.
At the end of the session, transaction information is returned to T-Mobile, which then bills the mobile customer on behalf of the content provider. All interactions are secured using HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer, while identity is handled using an Oracle Corp. relational database.
With several Microsoft content providers expected to deploy Microsofts .Net Web services platform, Moiin said he is planning to upgrade to Systinets WASP Server for Java 4.5 and WASP Developer 4.5, which provides stronger interoperability with Web services written in .Net languages and deployed on Microsoft platforms.
T-Mobile plans to make its network even more attractive by providing additional services to which content providers can connect via Web services. On the content side, the company said it hopes to provide consumers with streaming video and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) this year.
“Now that weve got this Web services framework to allow information exchange, were done with the basics,” Moiin said. “Its quick and easy to adopt new applications and capabilities.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected]