- Microsoft and Vodafone have announced the launch of a new service delivering real-time email, 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 in London this week 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," says Amit Tau, managing director of Vodafone UK Multimedia. "Based on the success in the UK, the service will be rolled out all over the world."
The companies stressed that OfficeLive is not a synchronisation product, but rather that Vodafone OfficeLive works in real time utilising MMIS. MMIS is Microsoft's newest server software in its line of .Net enterprise products and was demonstrated this week 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," says Jonas Persson, Microsoft commercial director, Mobility Solutions Center. Persson says 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 will cost subscribers £5 pounds ($NZ16.90) per month, per user. Corporate customers already signed up include Barclays Bank, Hewlett-Packard, ICL, KPMG Consulting and NTL Group, Vodafone and Microsoft say.
Barclay's deployed the service on Monday, says 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 air time usage fee. "When it comes to GPRS, there will be data volume charges rather than air time charges," Tau says.
While OfficeLive is currently aimed at the corporate market, Tau says 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 agrees. "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, says 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 says.
Southcott adds 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 says.
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 says.
"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 says.
"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 says.
"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," says James McCarthy, business alliances manager, multimedia for Vodafone. McCarthy says 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 points 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 is uncertain when OfficeLive would be offered to corporations in continental Europe, but expects that to happen well before the end of the year. He adds that OfficeLive will most certainly be launched in the US as well, but felt that the US mobile market in general is still a year or two behind Europe.