Oracle launches wireless Web unit

Oracle Corp. has looked into its crystal ball and seen the future: wireless Internet access.

The company launched a new mobile subsidiary and portal yesterday that allows users to buy books on Amazon.com, bid in eBay auctions and trade stocks on ETrade through their Web-enabled pagers and cell phones.

"We're working with ETrade so you can set your phone or pager to alert you when a stock moves," or users can be alerted by travel sites when a flight gets delayed or a gate changes, said Denise Lahey, CEO of OracleMobile.com.

Oracle faces stiff competition in the already crowded yet nascent mobile field. Portal giants Yahoo Inc., Excite@Home, Microsoft Network and America Online Inc. already offer or are working on developing mobile portals of their own.

Meanwhile, a slew of smaller companies, such as @Mobile.com Inc., are aggregating content to compete for the same estimated 400 million wireless subscribers worldwide. All of them are inking deals with wireless carriers, phone manufacturers and each other in an incestuous market free-for-all.

"Everyone is hedging their bets," said Jane Zweig, executive vice president at Herschel Shosteck Associates Ltd., a Washington-based wireless consultancy. "Everyone is sleeping with everyone else, and the market will decide what people want and which partnerships (will) ultimately" work, she added.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc. predicts that there will be more than 1 billion mobile devices in use by 2003, and Oracle expects to see wireless Internet access devices outnumber PCs by next year. But before that happens, more content needs to be adapted for the smaller screens and input limitations of those devices.

Oracle is one of the few firms that has a working portal that mobile customers can use now. "We're aggregating services that have never been brought together before," said Lahey. For instance, in addition to buying products and services from Amazon, eBay and ETrade, an OracleMobile customer can use the portal to look up a specific type of restaurant in a particular city, read reviews, call the restaurant, make reservations and get driving directions, Lahey said — "all within three clicks on your phone, and no typing at all."

The personalized services and content at the new portal are free to any registered user. Among the 20-odd content partners of the Oracle portal are Astrology.com, Hollywood.com Inc., Lottery.com, ScreamingMedia.com Inc., Travelocity.com, United Parcel Service of America Inc., Waiter.com Inc. and The Weather Channel.

Motorola Inc. will be providing its wireless messaging, address book, to-do list, calendaring and voice command technologies to the OracleMobile portal. The service will be voice-enabled by the middle of this year so people can use either a digital or analog phone to access the portal, according to Lahey.

Although the portal currently is geared toward U.S. users, Oracle will offer localized content and services for users in Europe and Asia in the future, said Lahey.

Meanwhile, Oracle is talking to mobile operators about partnering on building a branded portal customized for their subscribers.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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