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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 13:56 GMT
Xtempus forges mobile links
Ericsson concept phone
Mobile phones are getting funkier all the time
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

People love gadgets. They love their mobile phones, their WAP phones, their I-Mode phones and their smart phones with built in diaries and notepads. They adore their MP3 phones, Palm computers, palm-top computers and their Pocket PCs.

But to the network operators and the companies trying to make a living selling information via one or more of these devices, this blooming diversity is a pain.

The subtle but significant differences between different makes of handsets and handhelds, the fact that outwardly they look the same but inwardly use different versions of standard protocols means it is a Herculean task to get even the simplest service working everywhere on every device from day one.

Gadgets galore

Which is where Xtempus comes in.

It describes itself as a maker of mobile middleware but really it is trying to become the Babel fish for the mobile world. In the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy the fish sat in a travellers ear and acted as a universal translator.

Instead of sitting in an ear Xtempus software sits in the mobile phone network and ensures that your handset or handheld gets what it asks for in a format that makes sense to it.

As the world gets ever more interconnected and the numbers of gadgets proliferates this translation problem is only going to get worse.

The Yankee Group estimates that by 2003 there will be over 1 billion mobile devices in use around the globe that can access net-based services.

Network nightmare

Already across Europe there are over 100 mobile phone networks, many of them have the same parent company but that does not make it easier to offer services across them all.

The network operators such as Vodafone and Orange may be able to keep up with the crowd of wireless gadgets, but smaller companies that want to use mobile phone networks can't. And it's here that Xtempus is betting its business.

Geoff Baird, chief executive of Xtempus, is betting more than most. Mr Baird left the top job at Psion Computers to take up the post at Xtempus and when he signed on the company only had 9 employees.

"I don't see it as a risk because this business is going to be huge," he said, "there is more and more demand for what we are doing."

Part of the reason that the founders started the business was that they realised that no-one was making the smart software that could sit behind the scenes and do the work of translating information into different formats for different gadgets.

It looks like the demand is starting to grow. Now Xtempus is barely 12 months old and it has almost 100 staff, and has already helped United News and Media and launch a football game called PhoneGoal that can be played across any of the UK's mobile networks.

Although it is early days for WAP phones, smart phones and information businesses that send data to your mobile device, but few people doubt that it will grow fast as your handset becomes a key to the data you need to live your life.

All Xtempus needs to do now is ensure it is listening.

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