Electronic Design

A Standard Design Protocol Is Needed For Mobile-Device Interconnectivity

Bluetooth, wireless access—all that this entails is the responsibility of the software engineer—right? Wrong. Mobile-device manufacturers keep touting the ability to access information from anywhere at anytime. But without a standard design protocol, design engineers and software developers encounter roadblocks to wireless technology.

Mobile applications must locate and access all network services to give mobile devices the most usability. Yet without this ability to find services, a device could be completely shut out of a required service, such as printing via a mobile device at a hotel business center. What's needed is something known as service discovery.

Service discovery is a means for dissimilar devices to identify the functional capabilities of other devices and services. Smart handheld devices like the cell phones, PDAs, and laptops flooding the marketplace need to understand what capabilities are available at their current location before service begins. A device with a black and white screen and voice activation will want to send and receive information differently than one with a color screen and a keyboard. In order for the communication to be intelligent, service discovery is essential.

A useful service-discovery technology should not only be able to determine the capabilities of the devices that enter a network, but also find a specific device or service and bind to it. That is, the basic service-discovery technology might say to networked devices and services, "Tell me all about yourself." An advanced technology would also say, "I need a device with a specific set of capabilities," and have that device respond with, "Here I am." Once found, the advanced technology would provide a way to begin using the device by locating and loading required drivers.

The mobile marketplace is currently filled with parochial service-discovery protocols supporting characteristics that isolate them to a single market segment, protocol domain, or technology prerequisite. In fact, with over 25 identifiable service-discovery technologies in the industry today, three are prominent: Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), Sun Microsystems' Jini, and the independent Salutation. Others include protocol-specific offerings from Bluetooth and IrDA.

While all of these service-discovery protocols have merit within their own environments, all but one contain roadblocks to generalized interactions. In the way that they're defined today, a device or service using Jini won't be able to locate devices using UPnP, or vice versa. Furthermore, devices and applications hoping to take advantage of both IrDA and Bluetooth capabilities must support each of the different service-discovery protocols supported by the two transport layers.

To tear down the roadblocks, industry leaders such as Ricoh, Canon, Mutatec, IBM, Fuji, Xerox, and Kyocera-Mita joined forces in the Salutation Consortium to create a standard method for describing, advertising, and searching for specific capabilities. The Salutation architecture was created to meet their goal.

Equally relevant in directory-centric and peer-to-peer environments, Salutation can be used to integrate these two models. Its broad applicability to applications and services enables mobile devices to function in any environment that they enter. Salutation has overturned technology roadblocks and provided a standard service-discovery protocol that can clarify the pervasive computing vision.

It's time to break the stalemate and insist on a standard service-discovery protocol. The next move is yours to make.

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