Microsoft eyes wireless opportunities

Focused on pursuing wireless computing opportunities, Microsoft Corp. plans to expand its vertical industry offerings in the health care and finance industries over the next year, according to a company official.

Microsoft is positioning its Smartphone and PocketPC Phone 2002 platforms as key weapons in its wireless communications arsenal as part of its mobile drive, said Juha Christensen, corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s mobile devices division, speaking on Saturday at the Fusion 2002 partner conference. “This is a fantastic call to action,” he said.

As part of Microsoft’s efforts, the company is working with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Accenture Ltd. to bring horizontal messaging systems for mobile devices to enterprises, and plans to build vertical solutions for finance, banking and health care, Christensen said.

“With the emergence of XML and XML Web services, we’re really talking about the interesting convergence that is going to result in [the distribution of] over a billion wireless devices,” Christensen said. Microsoft partners have an opportunity to build competitive advantages through developing wireless solutions, he said.

The number of wireless subscribers is growing rapidly, said Christensen. While carriers are experiencing declining revenues on a per-user basis in voice, data represents a new opportunity, he said. By 2007, there will be 300 million smart wireless devices with data processing capabilities, said Christensen.

However, there will not be one “killer app” for wireless, he said. But since no two users will have their wireless device configured identically, there will be numerous applications deployed, he added.

At the centre of Microsoft’s wireless efforts is its Visual Studio.Net platform. The company is focused on including wireless devices in its .Net computing vision, Christensen said.

Key to Microsoft’s wireless product efforts are its Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition and its forthcoming Smartphone software platforms for wireless devices. Both support data and telephony, although the Smartphone resembles a cell phone more closely than Pocket PC, which is run on PDA devices.

Pocket PC devices are available from carriers including Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Corp. The software enables utilization of phone services such as Caller ID and the ability to maintain contact lists in which contacts can be called from within the contact list. Users can synchronize with a Microsoft Exchange Server without the need to utilize a laptop or desktop as a conduit.

Smartphone, due to be rolled out in Europe in late-2002, is a similarly featured one-handed device while Pocket PC has two-handed functionality, including a stylus. Both Smartphone and Pocket PC enable surfing of the Internet.

One Fusion attendee was impressed with Pocket PC.

“The technology’s a real turn-on,” with its ability to do business anywhere and have fun with it, too, said Mark Scanlan, principal architect at Microsoft and Cisco consultancy ExtraTeam, of Pleasanton, Calif.

He said he was not excited about Smartphone, preferring the interface of Pocket PC.