Microsoft, Vodafone team on mobile services

Microsoft Corp. and Vodafone Group PLC announced Monday the launch of a new service delivering real-time e-mail, SMS (short message service) and voice communication to corporate customers via the Outlook platform, powered by the Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 Server (MMIS).

Company officials declined to say how much money they will invest in the project, to be known as Vodafone OfficeLive, but said at a joint news conference here that it marked the beginning of a long-term relationship between the two companies.

“We are extending the power of the desktop to the mobile,” said Amit Tau, managing director of Vodafone U.K. Multimedia. “Based on the success in the United Kingdom, the service will be rolled out all over the world.”

The companies stressed that OfficeLive is not a synchronization product, but rather that Vodafone OfficeLive works in real time utilizing MMIS. MMIS is Microsoft’s newest server software in its line of .Net enterprise products and was demonstrated Monday during a keynote presentation at its annual TechEd developers conference in Atlanta.

“Microsoft is currently investing a lot in mobility, the same way we did in the Internet a couple of years ago,” said Jonas Persson, Microsoft commercial director, mobility solutions center. Persson said Microsoft sees the project as a way to add mobility to the company’s .Net Web services initiative.

Microsoft and Vodafone estimated that the service would cost subscribers US$7 per month, per user. Corporate customers already signed up include Barclays Bank PLC, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), ICL Ltd., KPMG Consulting Inc. and NTL Group Ltd., Vodafone and Microsoft said.

Barclay’s deployed the service Monday, said Tau, adding, “This service already works incredibly well over GPRS (general packet radio service) today, and will work with 3G (third generation). It is future-proof.”

There are two tiers to the payment system: users will be charged a flat monthly rate for the managed service and then an airtime usage fee. “When it comes to GPRS, there will be data volume charges rather than air time charges,” Tau said.

While OfficeLive is currently aimed at the corporate market, Tau said that the consumer market is very much part of the plan, though such services would most likely not be available until 2003 or 2004.

“We find consumers very reluctant to pay for new services at all,” Microsoft’s Persson agreed. “Corporations are more willing to pay for new services. And from corporations, come consumers who have gotten used to using the services at work.”

Mark Southcott, HP’s Vodafone account manager, said that HP is currently testing OfficeLive but is presently unsure about when the service will be rolled out to the rest of the corporation. “We’re helping Vodafone with the internal trial and working on scalability testing. We are focusing on how to engage the sales force as well as engineers,” Southcott said.

Southcott added that HP has been satisfied with the security aspects of the service and feels confident enough to partner with Vodafone and Microsoft on providing new OfficeLive services in the future.

OfficeLive will work with a number of industry standards, including the new wireless industry standard, the Mobile Services Initiative (M-Services), announced last week by the GSM Association, a representative body of mobile telephone network operators, Vodafone and Microsoft said.

Other industry standards groups that Microsoft and Vodafone are working with are W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project) and ETSI (European Telecom Standards Institute), Persson said.

“We’re making a huge effort to use industry standards. Microsoft doesn’t have a great reputation (with industry standards) but we’re getting better and better,” Persson said.

“Hopefully innovation will take place between Vodafone and Microsoft, and we need to make sure that developers have a platform to work on. Microsoft and Vodafone are building a platform together to attract all of these (independent) developers,” Microsoft’s Persson said.

“Obviously, this is a proprietary service, but we are looking a ways to reach out to the development community so as to develop services. It would be daft not to,” said James McCarthy, business alliances manager, multimedia for Vodafone. McCarthy said that would include looking to creating services that run over Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java programming language.

Last January, Microsoft announced its Java User Migration Path (JUMP) for applications and services – development tools designed to migrate Java applications onto the company’s signature .NET platform – after settling a bitter, three-year legal dispute over the use of Java.

Vodafone’s McCarthy pointed out that Vodafone would work with Microsoft on developing new applications, but if Vodafone and Microsoft didn’t see eye to eye on something like Java, for instance, Vodafone could also work apart from Microsoft on developing new applications.

McCarthy was uncertain when OfficeLive would be offered to corporations in continental Europe but expected that to happen well before the end of the year. He added that OfficeLive would most certainly be launched in the United States as well, but felt that the U.S. mobile market in general was still a year or two behind Europe.

In related news,satellite-based mobile communications company Globalstar Canada said it has expanded its services to include short messaging service (SMS) and direct dial-up data access

[see story –

Globalstar Canada enhances short messaging service


Until July 15 the company said all of its customers could receive 19-character text messages using a GSP-1600 handset virtually anywhere in the world free of charge. Also, as an added enhancement to the Globalstar Data service, data customers can now connect to private networks.