LONDON (Reuters) - Oracle Corp is set to launch a product to let consumers shop electronically from any existing mobile phone, a move which it believes could rapidly triple the number of Internet shoppers worldwide, the company said Thursday.
The world's second-largest independent software company said its "Portal-to-Go" browser -- to be unveiled at a telecoms conference in Geneva next week and due in production next month -- will enable any mobile device to pull information from the Internet, letting users buy online in just a few keypad clicks.
"What we're doing is really enabling wireless e-business," Denise Lahey, vice-president of Oracle's division for mobile and embedded technology, told Reuters in an interview.
"We're essentially tripling the number of users on the Internet as soon as Portal-to-Go starts shipping."
While there are now about 300 million mobile device users globally, only 120 million people access the net through personal computers, she noted. The number of mobile subscribers is forecast to reach one billion in the next few years.
A key difference between Oracle's browser and others now on offer is that it is not tied to a single format standard, but is an "open solution that can be used with all standards," Oracle said. It also repackages Internet data simply for transactions rather than just surfing.
Lahey said Portal-to-Go crosses divides between U.S. and European standards and works on analog and digital phones.
"One of the things that is unique about this is the fact that we can support any device," Lahey said.
It embraces systems now being developed to marry mobile phones and the Internet, and builds on blueprints from the major handset makers, she added.
Key to this is its use of XML, or extensible markup language, a powerful tool to open up data on the Internet.
"XML is an open standard first of all," she said. "It's very easy to take something from XML and transform it into whatever's supported on every device -- from a pager to a cellphone."
The browser will be distributed and branded by wireless carriers, whom Oracle is charging $2 per user per year, although Lahey would not give any group forecasts for potential earnings.
The launch could initially reach over 11 million subscribers through deals with state-owned co-developer Telia of Sweden -- which is already operating the browser -- BT Cellnet, and an unnamed Korean carrier with about four million subscribers.
"We're working with carriers all over the world," Lahey added. She said the launch timing in different markets would be decided by the carriers.
QUICK ONLINE DEALS
The browser can be personalized -- pre-loaded with information to avoid having to key in lengthy numbers and enable quick purchases. And it can "notify" users when, for example, a stock they are holding hits a key level, Lahey said.
For businesses, it enables access to stored data like a human resources database, calendar or inventory information.
One of the services Telia is offering is to enable cellphone users in Gothenburg to locate arriving trams, so that for instance elderly travelers need not stand about in the cold.
Lahey said Oracle is also working with Motorola to enable the browser to be operated by voice rather than through the keypad, and with Sun Microsystems to let it locate and operate remote devices, for instance a printer, so travelers can print on the go.
"We're also building a joint solution with Symbian. The aim is to jointly develop the next-generation wireless applications," for instance location-based features giving quick information about a city as a traveler arrives.
"You can just let your imagination go wild. Think of the kinds of applications that you can build with this technology. It's mind-boggling," Lahey said.