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Microsoft and AT&T Wireless Demonstrate New Location-Based Services Product

Microsoft announced Microsoft Enterprise Location Server at the DEMOmobile 2002 conference last week. The new product integrates Microsoft .NET Compact Framework, XML Web services, and the AT&T Wireless Next-Generation Wireless Network and will be compatible with any platform that supports the Microsoft .NET Framework (i.e., Windows 2000 Server and later). On August 1, 2002, Microsoft and AT&T formally announced their partnership in the mobility applications space. Enterprise Location Server is the first deliverable product of that agreement.

The .NET Compact Framework lets developers easily build feature-rich Windows applications on their desktops in Visual Studio .NET, then target the applications to small devices such as Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition. At the conference, Microsoft and AT&T demonstrated a location-enhanced Instant Messaging (IM) application by using a Pocket PC Phone Edition device with Microsoft MapPoint (Microsoft's first commercially available Web service) to locate employees on a map in realtime, then communicate with them by using IM with Windows Messenger. The sky is the limit on what a developer can do with the Enterprise Location Server architecture and infrastructure. Picture using Enterprise Location Server as a real estate vertical application: A real estate agent can target and find available homes for clients in realtime over AT&T's carrier network while using a cell phone! Developers will be able to use the same programming model, development tools, skills, and, to a certain degree, code to build applications that span from small devices to the data center.

The Microsoft/AT&T partnership works by AT&T providing wireless communication for location services, which will pin down a Pocket PC phone device from the AT&T cell tower and provide Global Positioning System (GPS)-like capabilities over a cellular network. Granularity of the location depends on the density of AT&T cellular towers, but in the near future, triangulation between cell towers will let location services pin down a location within a couple hundred feet. AT&T hasn’t released information about what the service will cost but says it’s safe to assume the price will be relative to what it is today for wireless data service.

Expensive and propriety solutions are available now. QUALCOMM offers a wireless communication system to track semi-trucks and trucks on trains. Historically, such location-based, turnkey vertical systems have been extremely expensive and limited in functionality. With Enterprise Location Server, Microsoft and AT&T provide potential solutions at a fraction of the cost.

David Rasmussen, lead product manager for .NET mobile development at Microsoft, said, ″We want to democratize mobile development via a single toolset that spans desktops and devices. Visual Studio .NET developers everywhere can start building mobile applications. And, just as Visual Basic developers drove the personal computer revolution with better apps years ago, we're betting that Visual Studio .NET developers will trigger the same phenomenon with smart devices. We're doing the same thing with location. Through our partnership with AT&T Wireless and the Enterprise Locations Server, we're making location an ingredient that all developers can simply reuse."

Obviously, at times people won't want to be located. Microsoft provides an Enterprise Location Server policy to let users opt in or opt out of being located. The company using Enterprise Location Server decides and controls which cell phones will have location-based services and provides user control to opt out of being located.

Although it would be great to have this enterprise server component and AT&T infrastructure available today, it's way too early for Microsoft and AT&T to know exact pricing and availability. I believe it's safe to assume we’ll see this product available within the next 6 months. The next generation of mobility applications will undoubtedly succeed Enterprise Location Server.

Mobility applications haven't taken off as predicted 3 years ago for a couple of reasons. One reason is because of clumsy devices that are incapable and sometimes too large to make mobility easy. A second reason is the developers' inability to build regular applications that look good and run well because the technology hasn’t been there to support them in their efforts. In my opinion, Enterprise Location Server seems to be positioned to launch mobility.

To read more about the Enterprise Location Server announcement, visit the following URL.

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