Nobody can accuse Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison of not putting his money where his mouth is. Six months after declaring that the next generation of the internet would be born on the back of Europe's fervour for mobile communications, the flamboyant database boss last week spun off an Oracle subsidiary aiming to exploit this opportunity.
Last year Ellison predicted that Europe would become the internet leader because of the proliferation of mobile and wireless communications devices used by the general public. He hinted that partnerships with European companies would be on the Oracle agenda so as to grab the mobile internet access market, which Yankee Group believes will be worth $1.8bn (£1.1m) by 2003.
The new subsidiary, an online portal called OracleMobile.com, will seek to bring internet content designed for personal computers to mobile phones using Oracle's PortalToGo technology.
OracleMobile.com will provide internet content optimised for the smaller display screens and keypads of mobile phones. Voice recognition technology will eventually be built in to ease internet access and transactions. Instead of having to type in requests, users will be offered options to which they can respond with the numerical keypad.
OracleMobile.com will also offer to host content providers' information on its portal, in exchange for a portion of every transaction processed through the site.
Making content mobile
Ellison is clearly betting that website companies cannot afford to take the time to reformat content which has been designed for a PC. "We can get it mobile in hours or days, rather than months or years," he claimed.
The company has already partnered with Amazon.com, eBay, E*trade and airline reservation specialist Sabre to provide content.
Oracle's PortalToGo technology was developed last year, and Oracle will license it to OracleMobile.com. The software is able to recognise the type of pager or mobile phone a user is on, and can optimise the content specifically for that device.
The firm also announced a partnership with Motorola, which will provide personal information management technology to OracleMobile.com, as well as wireless messaging and voice access. Oracle plans to integrate wireless data and voice via Motorola's Mobile Internet Exchange platform.
Another recent deal, which has been somewhat overshadowed by OracleMobile.com, has been an agreement with Swedish telecoms company Telia to form yet another company to develop PortalToGo wireless communications.
What does this remind you of?
The jaded reaction might be, sure Larry, but don't you try and do something like this this time every year? It certainly brings back memories of Ellison's last venture, Network Computer Inc (NCI), now styled Liberate Technologies.
NCI was set up to market and deliver on Ellison's vision-before-last - thin-client networked devices intended to replace the PC in organisations. Ellison, for one, sees the new venture as affirmation of the old NC thinking: an internet-enabled mobile phone will be the scaled-down networked device that the NC was intended to be.
"It doesn't matter what you call them," said Ellison, citing GartnerGroup research suggesting that there will a billion wireless devices in circulation by 2003.
"Those who vote with their dollars, and Deutschmarks, have decided that the internet and wireless are the most exciting industries," he continued. "OracleMobile.com turns your mobile phone into an internet appliance, just as Liberate turns your TV into an internet appliance."
He then proceeded to add what has become a familiar prediction: "It won't be long before these new internet computers outnumber PCs."
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