Wireless industry untangles potential killer apps

TORONTO — What the Internet did for the way in which people consume traditional print media Really Simple Synchronization (RSS) technology will do for the Web, according to an independent software vendor that develops news syndication applications for wireless mobile devices.

Founded in 2004,

Virtual Reach Inc., which is headquartered in Mississauga, Ont., said RSS is going to be a very important technology for wireless, but it’s not perfect yet. Since the technology was pioneered by Internet browser Netscape in 1996 as a news clipping service, its adoption has been fueled by news agencies like CNN and Reuters, corporations like Apple and Ford and, most recently, bloggers, said Virtual Reach chief technology officer, Jay Steele.

“There’s a lot of content out there,” said Steele, who was one of four speakers at a wireless applications panel at this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto. “In 2004, there were six million RSS feeds out there.”

That number is primarily driven by the more recent explosion of the blogger community, said Steele, who founded graphics software company Plazmic Inc., which was acquired by Research in Motion (RIM) in 2001.

Because RSS is based on polling technology, said Steele, at the end of the day you’ve downloaded 2.5MB of data and received no new information. Frequent polling can also clog the network, he added.

“RSS is a killer form of content for wireless,” said Steele. “But there are certain areas that need to be solved.”

To resolve the those problems, Virtual Reach is focusing on four key areas, starting with performance and usability in terms of allowing the user to take advantage of the client operating system. Another area is security and privacy when dealing with e-mail addresses: sometimes people don’t want to trust a third party with access to their personal information, Steele said. Other sticking points include interoperability issues across hardware and software platforms, as well as the cost to wireless users and carriers for the time it takes to download the data, said Steele.

Concord, Ont.-based 3G Touch Solutions Inc., which develops applications for wireless mobile devices such as Intermec Technologies’ Pocket PC, is also focused on security. Mike Feder, chief technology officer at 3G, said after locking down the device, making sure the user doesn’t get out of the application is another way to ensure that corporate data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Feder said 3G, which developed a quality assurance application for use on Palm Treo handhelds at McDonald’s Canada, encourages IT managers to create a secure network if a user has to go outside an application.

“In that case we can force all data communications to go through one channel,” said Feder.

3G did this for a project it worked on with Toronto Star to automate their single copy delivery system by implementing a virtual private network between Rogers and the Star. 3G is currently working on a similar project with the Hamilton Spectator.

As multi-function devices proliferate and consumer and business lifestyles diversify, companies also need to integrate wireless services, said Karna Gupta, chief marketing officer of Comverse Technology Inc. Based in Wakefield, Mass., Comverse provides communications and content applications such as real time billing and mobile e-mail to 400 carriers worldwide. Quoting a recent Yankee Group study, Gupta said by 2007, feature phones will account for the majority of sales over voice, browser and advanced OS phones.

“It’s becoming more and more critical to talk about solutions not in vertical boxes anymore but as solutions that cover all vertical domains,” said Gupta. “We’re using our installed base to leverage next generation solutions into the carrier network and then to customers.”

Similarly, Lucas Skoczkowski, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Redknee, which develops telecommunications software for carriers and service providers, said traditional carrier views were content, carrier and device-centric.

“Now with open application program interfaces (APIs), the network is driving more software to be opened up,” said Skoczkowski. “We’re looking at how to deploy applications regardless of what language they are written in or what platform they run on.”

Redknee powers wireless applications for 26 customers globally including Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility, T-Mobile and Cingular.

The Canadian Telecom Summit continues on Tuesday.

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