Sun-Netscape Alliance goes wireless

The Sun-Netscape Alliance Monday unveiled the iPlanet Wireless Server, a system which gives service providers the ability to offer customers wireless e-mail, calendar and customized directory services to specific devices.

Using XML-based style sheets, the Wireless Server can provide information to fit a device's particular specifications, such as screen size. A plug-in for the iPlanet Messaging Server will enable sending of Short Message Service (SMS) alerts and notes to wireless devices such as PalmPilots.

The Sun-Netscape alliance offers an SMS plug-in for its messaging store to let users send an SMS signal to a pager or phone when an event happens. "It could be as simple as 'your bill is due,' " said Barbara Kay, a marketing director at Sun-Netscape Alliance.

Kay added that the Wireless Server can also make use of calendar server links to provide date-specific and location-specific information -- traffic or weather reports, for example -- via wireless devices.

Currently in a beta release, the iPlanet Wireless Server supports Wireless Access Protocol and Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML)-enabled devices. HDML-enabled devices include smart phones and personal digital assistants, as well as standards-based browsers.

The Wireless Server also supports mobile network protocols such as Global Services for Mobile and Code Division Multiple Access, said Kay.

James Kobielus, an analyst at The Burton Group, in Alexandria, Va., believes SMS, which is akin to two-way paging, is very important to the expansion of wireless services and applications.

SMS marked its place in terms of providing data communications to wireless client "because it's already there in ... most digital handsets," Kobielus said. "Serving the SMS market is where vendors need to start in terms of supporting wireless clients," he added.

While the Sun-Netscape Alliance has garnered support from several Europe-based wireless service providers, including ePlus, Telenor and Orange, the U.S. continues to lag behind in wireless device usage. Even though interest in Internet-enabled devices is growing in the U.S., Americans are more focused on broadband than wireless, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in San Jose, Calif.

"We've had such a good wired infrastructure (in the U.S.) that using a cell phone to do things (online would probably be a) letdown," said Dulaney. He added that SMS and its alert service may be most beneficial for U.S. users.

"What you really want your phone to do is to alert you to things," he explained.

The Wireless Server will be positioned as a front-end application for existing iPlanet servers, including the iPlanet Calendar Server, the Messaging Server and the Unified Messaging Server, which are expected to ship in June. However, the Wireless Server will also act as a front end in Sun Microsystems and Netscape messaging products in the carrier and service provider markets, such as the Sun Internet Mail Server (SIMS) and Netscape Messaging Server.

"They've got a ready-made market to come in and sell to," said Kobielus, noting that there are a lot of SIMS and Netscape messaging products already in the carrier market. The Sun-Netscape alliance has "got a strong install base in terms of providing carriers with the messaging infrastructure they need." Kobielus called the service provider segment of the message market "the fastest growing segment of the market these days."

In the future, said Kay, the iPlanet Wireless Server will include adding wireless support for other applications.

For example, said Kay, the Sun-Netscape Alliance has received a lot of interest from financial services companies that believe wireless access "is a huge opportunity" for them to use to provide services to their customers.

The iPlanet Wireless Server is expected to ship in March, according to Kay.

This story from Copyright 2000 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.

This story, "Sun-Netscape Alliance goes wireless" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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