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Services going wireless

Find out how new wireless ASP industries will affect the way in which you use wireless devices.
Written by Evan Koblentz, Contributor

The wireless ASP industry is quickly evolving, with companies such as Air2Web Inc., 2Roam Inc., ViaFone.com Inc. and Aether Systems Inc. perfecting ways to host applications for use on wireless devices.

And shifting the burden for wireless integration from in-house IT to an outsourced specialist has attracted the attention of established companies such as United Parcel Service Inc., Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. and eBay Inc., which have become early adopters of the model.

"The infrastructure is there, the networks are coming together, the hardware mostly works," said Air2Web founder, President and CEO Sanjoy Malik about the state of the wireless Internet. The new opportunity, Malik said, "is how to get business-class applications out to those devices."

In September, UPS plans to use Atlanta-based Air2Web's service to roll out a wireless extension of its self-service Web site.

With it, customers will be able to access package tracking, drop-off locations, a quick-cost calculator and time-in-transit information, said UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg.

"UPS doesn't want to go out and reinvent technology," Rosenberg said of the deal with Air2Web. But the actual data, which could contain sensitive information, never leaves UPS' control, she said.

By next year, Rosenberg said, the UPS system will expand internationally and will implement a service to notify senders and recipients when a package arrives, along with information such as who signed for it and when.

The latest tools from 2Roam let customers wireless-enable a Web site without worrying about dirty work such as text formatting for different kinds of devices, according to CEO and co-founder Bryan Wargo.

With 2Roam's Nomad software, customers determine what information from the traditional site will make it to the wireless site. 2Roam hosts the new wireless version of the Web site and uses its Catalyst tool to format the site for more than 100 wireless devices.

Earlier this month, 2Roam, of Redwood City, Calif., inked a deal with digital marketer Avenue A Inc., of New York, to create a tracking system for the ads on wireless Web sites. Online auction giant eBay now uses 2Roam technology to let users search, bid, sell and get personalized content on their mobile phones.

The list of smaller, wireless-spe cific ASP (application service provider) players—many of which are less than a year old—continues to grow as well. Airflash Inc., which defines itself as "a private-label ASP for carriers and portals," provides location-specific data to the wireless divisions of Excite@Home Corp., AT&T Corp.'s PocketNet and British car rier Orange PCS Ltd.

The Redwood City company last week signed a pact to use Dallas-based Times Three Inc.'s proprietary technology, which Times Three claims can pinpoint the location of any wireless device.

ViaFone.com, of Redwood Shores, Calif., augmented its offerings earlier this month, joining its mobile applications platform with e-business platform maker Vitria Technology Inc.'s BusinessWare.

Even traditional enterprise ASPs are getting into the wireless game. Breakaway Solutions Inc. announced last week that five of its customers are implementing wireless services in a partnership with content and transaction specialist Aligo Inc. Among early customers, business-to-business services WorldOil.com Inc. and StarCite Inc. use the wireless features to provide transaction updates.

A company using 2Roam's services, Site59.com Inc., of New York, sells to end users and to other sites that co-brand their services, which involve discounted last-minute travel functions such as air fare or hotel rooms.

"The ASP model will enable Site59 to rapidly scale our business by offering our unique assets to other businesses' customers," said Damon Tassone, vice president of application services. "Simply put, an ASP enhances our reach on the Internet."

Industry insiders say the jockeying for position among wireless ASPs means advanced functionality for the future.

"A substantial component of occasionally connected devices" is how Aether Systems' Wayne Jackson summed up today's wireless state.

As the Owings Mills, Md., com pany's chief strategy officer, a big part of Jackson's job is to dream up new features for ASP-enabled wireless applications.

When coverage areas and bandwidth improve and become less of a factor, he said, the kinds of wireless hosted applications will also improve. Tasks such as having to synchronize wireless devices with computers will become obsolete, he said, because of real-time, full-time network connectivity.

In addition to the enterprise, wireless ASP technology is trickling down to consumers as well. Hosted instant messaging is on the horizon, and many hosted sports and entertainment applications already exist.

Air2Web's Malik pointed out the example of TotalSports.net, where users select sports teams; input notification events such as game starting times, pitching changes or scoring; then receive live updates based on their criteria.

The ultimate wireless ASP application for road warriors, joked one wireless ASP executive, would be hosted applications for an "auto-PC"—which would let somebody else be concerned about driving directions, the level of fuel, tolls or location-specific radio stations.

Up in the air

A Jupiter Communications Inc. report released in April predicts that the market for wireless data services will grow rapidly, with an estimated 90 million wireless application-protocol-enabled phones in the hands of U.S. consumers by 2004.

Air2Web founder Malik is heeding the call for getting enterprise-level applications out to wireless devices.

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