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Air2Web Changes Gears

Upgraded wireless app can be deployed at customer sites
If companies wanted wireless access to company data using Air2Web Inc.'s technology, they've had to use the wireless platform provider's hosting services. But that's about to change.

Air2Web, which for two years has offered only hosted services, this week will ship a version of its system as a standalone application. Air2Web 3.0 can be deployed behind a corporate firewall and lets a company maintain all of its own data instead of sending it to Air2Web for transmission to wireless devices.

Other features include support for the Microsoft Pocket PC platform, support for sending vCards of contact information using Nokia devices, Wireless Application Protocol alerts, and two-way Short Message Service (SMS) messages. The system also offers speech-recognition technology from Nuance Communications Inc. and text-to-speech software from SpeechWorks International Inc.

Air2Web had no choice but to offer a nonhosted system, says Jack Gold, a VP at Meta Group research and consulting firm. "Most companies looking at this stuff want to have the information behind their firewall," he says.

Air2Web is only one of many wireless hosting companies that's had to make the switch to being a software provider--a move that puts it in competition with Aether Systems, Briance, BroadBeam, Everypath, OracleMobile, Sybase's iAnywhere division, and others, Gold says.

There's still demand for hosted services, however. The Weather Channel Inc. will begin using a hosted version of Air2Web 3.0 to send SMS alerts that warn subscribers of bad weather. The cable-TV channel in Atlanta will start providing the free service July 27.

"We send [alerts] out by E-mail as well, but when people are on the go we can get across the message through SMS really easily," says Tom Flournoy, VP of product management for the Weather Channel. Flournoy says he chose the hosted version because it's simpler to use, since Air2Web manages the wireless network connections.

Hosted systems are a good match for consumer services, Gold says. The Weather Channel "doesn't want to install monster systems to send a weather alert to 10,000 customers."

Pricing for the Mobile Internet Platform Enterprise Edition begins at $120,000. Pricing for the Hosted Edition starts at $54,000 per year.