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When you hear the term mobile service delivery, what do you think? You probably think about content downloads - ringtones, Java games and applications. That covers items for delivery, but what about the all-important bit about service.

Mobile devices are growing in size and stature, at least from a computing power and memory point of view, whilst shrinking in centimetres and grams (or inches and ounces if you prefer). It can be very tempting to think of even the humble mobile phone as all becoming smarter, more powerful, like tiny pocket-able computers. But that need not mean they have to fatten up, with everything on the device. They could be thin clients - Network Computers (NC) instead of networked Personal Computers.

The disadvantage of the desktop NCs, once promoted by Oracle and Sun, is they required lots of network capacity for constant traffic. The advantage of mobile NC applications is precisely the same - especially if you're an operator.

The iPhonebook application from Xpherix is a thin client application for mobile phone users. Last week it was announced that it would become available through Revolution, O2's mobile services portal for a £3 monthly subscription. The central iPhonebook database stores all a user's numbers and makes them available on demand. Typically a user would use a WAP browser over a GPRS connection, use a simple search for the number they needed, then dial it.

For this to really take off, it has to be easier than searching the phone book stored on the phone. However there are several advantages for the user, even if it's only about the same.

Firstly, users can store thousands of numbers if they wish, and the numbers aren't lost if the phone is lost, stolen or the memory corrupted. In addition to numbers, the database can store other fields of information, so addresses and other contact information can be found or used to search. The database can be synchronised to a desktop address book in Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, GoldMine, ACT and Palm applications.

But perhaps most valuable of all, Xpherix has a rule-based phone number parser which cleans the phone numbers entered by the user. This quietly handles issues such as adding or removing international call codes and number changes like BT Phoneday in the background. It can even use additional data in the database to look for errors in data such as area codes.

So what's in it for the operator?

There's a little to be made from the few bytes of GPRS traffic as the phonebook numbers are downloaded to the phone, but it's much less than the call cost to a directory services number.

With the O2 announcement it's seen as an added value data service so there's a subscription involved. However the ease of use of the existing phonebook on a mobile phone has made it simple for users to call more of their friends and contacts. If iPhonebook expands this simplicity to all contacts, it could generate even more voice traffic.

That's the real value to the mobile operators.

© IT-Analysis.com

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