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OracleMobile.com spin-off to focus on wireless

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison unveils a new company dedicated to helping Internet sites port their content to wireless devices.

NEW YORK--Oracle today unveiled a new company dedicated to helping Internet sites adapt their content for wireless devices.

Focused on bringing Internet content designed for PCs to wireless devices such as cell phones, OracleMobile.com will be headed by former Oracle executive Denise Lahey. The new company, long rumored to be under consideration, is cast in the same mold as Oracle spin-off Liberate Technologies, which was launched to bring existing Internet content to the television set.

Essentially, OracleMobile.com--which actually resides at oramobile.com while lawyers negotiate with cybersquatters who have taken the company's eponymous domain name--will offer its services to consumers, corporations and Internet sites looking for Web-based content on cell phones.

"(Chief executive Larry) Ellison says they already have about 93 percent of databases in Internet businesses, so this is just a nice logical extension of their existing business," said Alan Mosher, senior wireless industry analyst for Probe Research.

"This is enough of a variation from their core business that they need to establish it on its own," he said.

Both OracleMobile and Liberate reflect Ellison's dream of moving away from Windows-based PCs toward scaled-down appliances and devices powered by servers and connected to the Internet. Taking credit for the current wave of information appliances hitting the market today--set-top boxes, handheld computers and cell phones, all designed to access the Web--Ellison said that in forming OracleMobile his 1996 vision of the network computer is finally coming true.

"It doesn't matter what you call them," he said, equating information appliances with his concept of the NC and asserting his prediction that the PC would fade from relevance is being realized.

Ellison cited research from Gartner Group indicating that there will be 1 billion wireless devices on the market by 2003. "I might have missed by a year," he joked of Oracle's newest endeavor.

The formation of the company is motivated by more than Ellison's trademark rivalry with Microsoft, though. Oracle's founder commented that both wireless service companies like Qualcomm and Phone.com and all kinds of Internet companies are currently enjoying some of the highest valuations of any business on Wall Street.

"These are the most highly valued companies in the world," he said. "Those who vote with their dollars, and Deutsche marks, have decided that the Internet and wireless are the most exciting industries."

J. Gerry Purdy, president of wireless industry research firm Mobile Insights, said: "I think what you're seeing happening here is that Oracle has been focused on how to support the mobile user from a position of selling Oracle product. But now with the Portal to Go technology, they see themselves as developing more of a service sector play in the marketplace," said.

"This is really a different kind of play and it probably really doesn't fit the normal Oracle business model," Purdy said.

Analysts said the creation of a separate business unit was wise decision. Still, optimizing content for wireless devices could become a crowded business. "They think they've got a better way of going about doing it than Phone.com," Mosher commented.

To cell phone users, OracleMobile.com will provide a portal of Internet content optimized for the small displays and unwieldy keyboards of cell phones. Eventually integrating voice recognition technology, OracleMobile will ease the process of accessing and processing Internet content and transactions, Ellison said. For example, users will be given choices rather than typing in requests, in deference to the numerical keypads they will be using rather than typical keyboards.

"Typing on a cell phone is tricky," he said. "It has to be minimized."

For content providers, 1999: The year in technology OracleMobile will offer to host their information on its portal, taking a portion of every transaction processed through the site. Noting that current Web content has been designed for the desktop PC, he said that companies like Amazon.com and eBay--two partners of OracleMobile.com--can't afford to take the time to repurpose their content to fit all manner of devices. "They can't afford to lose their focus," he said. "We can get it mobile in hours or days, rather than months or years."

In addition to Amazon and eBay, OracleMobile.com has also partnered with E*trade, MapQuest, Sabre, OpenTable.com, ScreamingMedia and Zagat to provide content to the portal.

The reformatting technology, called Portal To Go, was actually developed last year by Oracle, according to Lahey, but the company decided to create the wireless portal on top of that technology and spin it off into a separate company, announced today. Oracle will license the technology to OracleMobile.com.

"Oracle's vision has always been to provide access to information anywhere anytime," said Lahey, the former head of Oracle's mobile division, explaining that the Portal To Go server software recognizes the specific pager or cell phone a user is on, and optimizes the content specifically for that device.

Oracle also announced a partnership with Motorola, to provide personal information management technology to OracleMobile.com, as well as wireless messaging and voice access.

News.com's Corey Grice contributed to this report from San Francisco.