Telecom '99: Oracle, IBM roll out mobile e-commerce

Some big companies are taking aim at little devices.

Both Oracle and IBM are making moves to deliver Internet interaction from wireless devices such as smart phones and personal digital assistants.

Oracle will announce at Telecom '99 in Geneva this week an early November shipment of Portal-to-Go, a server-based engine that translates HTML into formats understandable to mobile devices. The software, code-named project Panama, has been tweaked during its beta phase with new support for VoxML, a markup language for translating voice into text, said Oracle officials. That feature would enable, for instance, a smart phone user to order a book or sell a stock over the Web by speaking, they said.

For its part, IBM this week said it has made public a prototype technology called wiredAnywhere, a thin client for accessing the Web from mobile devices. wiredAnywhere and Translation Proxy, a server-based HTML translation engine, are available for free download from IBM's alphaWorks Web site. IBM didn't specify when its alpha technology might come to market.

"[Oracle's] is more of a product and further down the development path than we are," said Christopher Bahr, alphaWorks program director. On the other hand, Bahr said, IBM's technology is available now at no cost. Both technologies go beyond Web browsing with the capacity to conduct Internet transactions, company officials said.

Oracle's target market for Portal-to-Go is primarily telecommunications carriers, content and service providers, and enterprise customers who want to provide employees with wireless Internet capabilities.

So far, Oracle has two customers, Telia Mobile in Sweden and BT Cellnet in England, both wireless providers. Oracle developed Portal-to-Go in conjunction with Telia, which, like BT Cellnet, is using it to deliver wireless Internet content, said Denise Lahey, Oracle's vice president of mobile and embedded products. Both carriers plan demonstrations of the technology at Telecom '99.

The proliferation of wireless devices effectively triples the reach of the Internet, Lahey said. By 2005, some analysts predict as many as a billion wireless devices. "They're astronomical numbers -- a billion devices, and there's no convergence between wireless devices and the Internet," she said.

The Java-based Portal-to-Go translates HTML first into XML (Extensible Markup Language) and then into a format used by a device -- either WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) or the device's native format.

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