Soprano makes WAP content sing

Soprano makes WAP content sing

A young Australian company is pioneering the integration of content for wireless Internet devices.

By Paul Montgomery

The effects of the deregulation of the telecommunications industry last decade are still being felt with constant merger and acquisition activity, and heightened competition. It has also led to technological innovation, and Sydney-based Soprano Design has taken the opportunity to enter the brand new field of wireless Internet services.

Soprano was set up in 1994 specifically to provide integration services for large systems for telcos looking for new technology solutions in the post-deregulation era, according to MD Richard Favero. Its main claim to fame so far is that it supplied the back-end software and services for the first commercial implementation of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) services for consumers, in a service called NETworker launched by Cable & Wireless Optus last November.

Alerting shoppers on their mobile phones about sales items as they walk past retail stores

NETworker delivered news, stock prices, email and horoscopes to Nokia 7110 model handsets from a variety of sources, including Fairfax and online mall provider Sofcom. Soprano developed some complex software internally to handle the intricacies of delivering personalised content - the company has only 17 employees - such as an algorithm to customise content based on a user's surfing history.

"As soon as a phone contacts the service, we don't know who's using it, but we do know which user is associated with that phone," said Mr Favero.

To carry the content and manage the workflow elements of the system, the developers used messaging infrastructure from Tibco.

"Tibco provided a layer of software and tools," said Mr Favero. "We've built a system called InHarmony which is the core of our workflow processing technology. Then, sitting on top of that, we have mobile commerce elements, profiling and content aggregation."

Mr Favero said his company was not a service provider, but a "vendor of turnkey solutions". While its work for Optus spanned two and a half years of development and involved a lot of interaction between the two companies, the end result was far from complex.

"We just burned a CD, and one of our guys went to their data centre and installed it," he said. "The word that everyone uses is wireless portal. That's the buzzword."

Many of the technologies which Soprano has now developed would apply just as well in a corporate environment. In particular, the delivery of content to any device would be well suited for a mobile salesforce, not just for their own use but to enable electronic commerce.

"You transact when you want, not the next time you're in front of a PC. We think mobile is the way of e-commerce in the future," said Mr Favero.


The company has not been contracted to implement team-based workflow solutions in its services yet, although it is looking at "how to make enterprise information portal content relevant to handsets", according to Mr Favero.

"Business-to-consumer is our biggest market opportunity, but we have been approached [in industries like] transport, health and ticketing where we are looking at providing a service inside their organisations to improve their business processes," he said.

The future for Soprano, and also likely to be included in phase two of the NETworker service, is mobile e-commerce. Mr Favero said this included banking, stock trading, ticket sales and gambling - industries where a lot of automation has already taken place behind the scenes, but a lot of work remains to take paper- and human-based transactions out of the loop altogether.

"The whole model is about prompted fulfilment, and that is what makes for compelling content," he said, giving the example of alerts to shoppers on their mobile phones about sales items inside retail stores as they walk past them on the street outside. "The difference is the timeliness, and the applicability to the customer. That's what we concern ourselves with, getting closer to the customer."