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Sprint Position Paper for W3C Workshop on Mobile Ajax


Author: Brian Coughlin, Manager of Product Platforms, Sprint 4G
August 15, 2007
Version: 1.0

Abstract

Sprint is constantly evolving its mobile data portfolio of networks, services and products.  Towards this effort, Sprint encourages the continued development of viable open standards with respect to the significant opportunity presented by the Mobile Web.  Sprint recognizes many aspects of the W3C's activities in Mobile Web Initiative (MWI) and Ubiquitous Web Applications (UWA) as positive contributions towards the Mobile Web's ongoing development.

The technologies and methods comprising AJAX in particular have become a key enabler for many remarkable services and applications on the modern Internet today.  Sprint encourages the continued evolution of AJAX into the rapidly evolving Mobile Web space in accordance with the guidance embodied in the W3C MWI and UWA activities.  As such, Sprint offers this document as its contribution toward that end and welcomes further dialog going forward.  

Sprint Context and Background

We're big believers in "you're not just a telecom company--you're a media company." 
- Barry West, Sprint CTO and President of 4G in 2007 Interview with Forbes Magazine

Sprint as Wireless Carrier

Sprint is one of three Tier 1 wireless carriers in the USA.  Sprint operates 2 wireless networks using iDEN and CDMA technology today, and will add a third network using Mobile WiMAX starting in 2008.  Sprint has always derived a substantial portion of its Annual Revenue Per User (ARPU) from wireless data services.  This should continue on an upward trend, even more significantly when Sprint WiMAX service becomes available.

Specifically, Sprint's forthcoming WiMAX services will be a major milestone in the wireless industry in the USA for multiple reasons:

  1. The WiMAX user experience will be a Broadband Internet one, only now made mobile.  WiMAX networks are by design IP based.
  2. WiMAX networks will be more open, i.e. devices that earn WiMAX Mobile certification should be able to connect to WiMAX networks such as those from Sprint or other WiMAX networks using the same spectrum such as from Clearwire.   
  3. Unlike most current cell phones, WiMAX devices will not be subsidized by the Wireless Carrier (or at least that is Sprint's intent for its WiMAX products and services).  This will facilitate broader, more open market ecosystems for device and mobile software vendors. 

Sprint as Application and Service Provider

Sprint also supports a rich ecosystem of mobile applications and services, notably including

  1. A wide variety of value-added services including mobile video, downloadable music, and location-enabled applications.
  2. Third-Party Application Development via Sprint Application Developer Program and Business Mobility Framework
  3. "Pivot" quadruple-play service in partnership with US Cable Providers

The Great Opportunity of the Mobile Web

Given Sprint's current plans and Mr. West's quotation above, plus the characterization of Mobile Web in the blogosphere as the 7th Mass Media, the opportunity at hand is not lost on Sprint.  Yet as Tim-Berners Lee has said, everyone should agree that the Web is a foundation technology that should be universal and remain open, particularly even as mobile users become the majority of the Internet user population.    

The high-level ideal for Sprint is to be able to deliver valuable services to as many users as possible, and for each user's device(s) to offer an optimal experience of each service to the user.  Sprint believes a quality mobile user experience involves a successful integration of these four key elements:

Key Elements of the Mobile Internet Examples
1. Network-resident Content and Services messaging, search, downloadable media
2. Context and Personalization network status, security, location, user identity and user presence
3. Mobile Device Hardware Capability Detection camera, touchscreen, data storage, sensors
4. Device User Interface and Software Environment content presentation on mobile devices, device-resident software applications

Alignment of These Elements with W3C Ubiquitous and Mobile Web Activities

There are many potentially significant activities and documents already available or in-process from the W3C that address these four key areas.

Key Elements of the Mobile Internet Relevant W3C activities and/or documents
1. Network-resident Content and Services Device Independent Authoring Language (DIAL),
Web API Working Group
2. Context and Personalization Content Selection for Device Independence (DISelect)
3. Mobile Device Hardware Capability Detection Composite Capability/Preference Profiles (CC/PP):
Structure and Vocabularies 2.0
4. Device User Interface and Software Environment Delivery Context: Client Interfaces (DCCI),
WICD Profiles, notably WICD Mobile,
Widget Requirements,
UWA Workshop on Declarative Models of Distributed Web Applications

Suggestions for Realizing the Mobile Web Opportunity 

Reducing Device Software Environment Fragmentation

As a Wireless Mobile Services provider, Sprint already understands that it needs to play its part in the development of Network-based services meant to address areas #1 - #3 above.  However such development is always done in the context of the current state of the software technologies resident on mobile devices.   This current state is highly fragmented today, which for operators like Sprint greatly increases complexity and delays the availability of new mobile content and applications for users.

If more capable and flexible technologies for device software can be implemented in a consistent manner, using relevant W3C MWI and UWA guidelines and Mobile AJAX as the runtime software model, then all service providers including Sprint will be able to accelerate and improve its portfolio of Mobile Internet applications and services for users.  Furthermore, declarative language methodologies and the W3C Web Design Principle of Least Power can leave room of different software implementations of the desired capabilities across different devices but while maintaining the requisite level of standardization.

And let everyone involved in this industry not forget that a more uniform software environment should also significantly simplify and improve the end user experience. The market impact of the Apple iPhone alone has clearly shown that there is a strong desire in the market for improved user experiences with mobile devices.

Balancing Specification(s) with Implementation(s)

Sprint certainly appreciates and is encouraged by the existence of these W3C MWI and UWA activities and what they have output thus far.   However standards, specifications, and requirements documents are only significant to the extent that they are viably implemented in ways that benefit users.   Sprint is encouraged to see the WICD Mobile Candidate references current and planned CDR implementations which reinforce the viability of the document.  Sprint would welcome similar references for other W3C MWI and UWA efforts. 

Evolving Mobile AJAX as a more mature Device Software Environment 

Sprint encourages both commercial and open source web client software developers to incorporate support in future releases for the activities noted above in Key Element #4 "Device User Interface and Software Environment", most notably DCCI and Widgets in a manner that can be portable across OS platforms, across different device categories and across different browser implementations. These can be key enablers for AJAX to gain broad adoption in mobile, device-optimized applications not currently associated with web browsers as they are quite often used today.  In mobile devices these additional enablers will be especially critical, because the usage patterns of mobile devices tend to be for more specific tasks that can be done quickly, as compared to the generalized cases like 'web surfing' done on PCs.

In the area of AJAX Widgets, Opera 9 and the latest Nokia S60 Webkit runtimes have done some compelling work along these lines already.  Other browser software developers can easily add widget support and could do so with a common widget file format standard taken from the W3C's Widget guidelines, because basic widgets are initially just a variation of UI chrome for standard web browsers.  

Furthermore, the current Mobile AJAX widget implementations stop short of enabling integration with device features, whereas widgets for desktop PC runtimes like Google Desktop and Yahoo Widgets do support system call APIs.  Collectively all browser vendors should finalize and implement against the W3C DCCI and Widget documents.  

Conclusion and Future Options

Collectively these steps can establish a standard portable environment for developers for Mobile Web applications in Widget or page-based UI modes, and with DCCI will naturally extend the Mobile Web feature sets to include access to device capabilities to complement accessing the growing list of service resources in the network.   The new "mash-up" possibilities in such a context will be tremendous. 

One area outside of DCCI's claimed scope however is Access Control, and the security and privacy implications of AJAX access to sensitive parameters like location must be resolved.  Carriers like Sprint, as the trusted service provider of billing, location, etc. to its mobile users, welcomes further dialog with the W3C on this or other appropriate topics relevant to the MWI or UWA activities going forward. 

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