Introduction and Mobile Web Services


I'm finally starting my blog. I have deferred this activity for a number of reasons, some of which were valid, but all of which were well formed.

For those who don't know me, I am an Architectural Consultant working for Microsoft within the Communications Sector, Consulting Services team. My team works with the Telecommunications, Media and Entertainment, and the Mobile industries. I have been with Microsoft for 7

In my role as a customer-facing consultant, there are some great projects that I am exposed to. Unfortunately, I often cannot mention them publicly. In my role as a Microsoft architect working with various product teams, I am also involved in some very early efforts that are internal only. So the potential blog content has been squeezed from both sides -- too many secrets.

My current work has enough touch points and original thinking that I feel like I can possibly provide the right content to stay both relevant and innovative. There are 3 topics I am primarily focused on within the Communications Sector:

  • Service Oriented Architecture
  • Mobile Web Services
  • Service Delivery Platforms

My Current Role

My specific initiative within Microsoft right now is to assist the virtual team in Microsoft driving the Mobile Web Services initiative. This team has some influential members from the Platforms Strategy Group, Microsoft Research, the Server and Tools product team, and the Communications Sector/MED group.

My role is to serve as the Lead Architect within Microsoft Consulting that will help deliver Mobile Web Services implementations within Mobile Network Operators. I work closely with the strategy and development teams on this effort.

Mobile Network Operators

The wireless market is undergoing tremendous change. Next generation networks like CDMA2000, 3G, WiFi, and the new WiMax are being deployed. There is a revolution happening in mobile devices, and Microsoft has been a tremendous catalyst in this area. Finally, there is an exciting focus on providing richer, more useful, value-added services to subscribers.

There are some key services that have become common to most operators. This includes SMS, MMS, and recently Location detection. There are also some profitable but newer services, like Ring Tone services and downloadable games, which many operators are building. Some companies are providing “buddy locators” to detect when one of your friends is nearby. Finally, people are devising ways to purchase things on their phone like a digital wallet.

These services are implemented in many different ways, depending on the operator’s environment and network. There are numerous companies which provide platforms and equipment to implement or provide these base services, and they have their own proprietary interfaces. The more complex services are custom applications that aggregate multiple other base services to provide value.

There is a combinatorial challenge here since there are many different mobile network operators, using many different vendors and products to support a varying set of wireless services. This complexity makes it impractical to develop software products to broadly support the operators and services in a ubiquitous, cost-effective, supportable way.

Some operators are pursuing their own developer programs to expose their services, but the potential base of developers is somewhat limited by alignment with that specific operator. In a majority of cases, this does not provide enough scale to justify the development of applications specifically for that mobile network operators services.

Standards Everywhere

It's widely acknowledged that in the wired network world, there has been a convergence of technology and standards based on XML and Web Services. Microsoft and a few key players such as IBM and BEA have been in the center of that effort, driving integration and standardization in conjunction with leading standards bodies.

A similar opportunity exists in the wireless space as well. Vendors and standards groups are focused on new XML-based standards for OSS/BSS, device configuration and provisioning, subscriber services, etc. The subscriber services include a range of abilities like sending messages, locating a device, retrieving voice mail, and purchasing concert tickets on your phone bill.

With all of the different standardization efforts, this leads to the challenge describe by the cliché: “Standards are great! There are so many of them to choose from!”

Mobile Network Services

Microsoft and Vodafone recently announced the Mobile Web Services initiative to help address this challenge. In essence, they announced a plan to help create new Web services standards that integrate the services provided by Mobile Network Operators with the fixed (wired) network world. Here is a high-level architectural overview.

Mobile Web services utilizes the rapidly maturing XML-based Web services architecture to extend the service reach of mobile network services. One opportunity is to make is easy and ubiquitous for developers to integrate mobile network services such as messaging, location, authentication and billing into their applications.

Another essential opportunity is to empower end-users with new modalities of computing by harnessing mobile Web services from multiple devices on both wired and wireless networks. This “federated roaming” experience enables a more seamless computing experience. Microsoft has an opportunity in their software applications to unleash this potential.

Microsoft and Vodafone said they were interested in working with other key Mobile Network Operators and partners who can bring solid experience, ideas, and innovation to this effort. The goal is to define the foundation of the technical standards and to validate them with real-world implementations. After this work has matured, the expectation is that one or more formal standards bodies would take on the effort.

Different Roles for Devices

This effort is not solely about invoking web services from mobile devices, although this is a well supported scenario. It is about integrating the fixed and wireless networks for a richer experience on any device. Some devices are consumers of the services, some devices are participants in the services, and some are both.

Devices that consume Mobile Web Services can be any rich device, such as servers, PCs, laptops, PDAs, and SmartPhones. For example, a Mobile Workforce Management application running on a Windows Server might send messages to people via their phone. Another example might be a “Where Am I” mapping application written in.NET CF running on a high-end phone (perhaps a Motorola MPx if you know someone). Michael Yuan has an interesting post on developing .NET CF applications with Web services.

Devices which participate in Mobile Web Services can be any supported mobile device by that Operator. One example would be sending a SMS message to a basic cell phone from a web application. The consuming device is a server. The participating device might a basic cell phone, unable to handle XML or Web Services locally. The Mobile Network Operator processes the requests and handles them directly—in this case by sending the SMS message to the phone.

This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.