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Swissair, IBM first to enable passengers to check in from mobile phones

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Zurich, Switzerland, 16 Dec 1999—In support of Swissair's new levels of customer care, IBM has developed an application that enables selected Swissair passengers to check in from web-enabled mobile phones. With this service, which is initially available in Zurich for selected frequent flyers, Swissair is the world's first airline to provide such ability to its passengers.

Selected Swissair customers can now use their web-enabled cellular telephone to check in for a booked flight. In return, they receive information on the display that would normally be printed on their boarding pass: the exact departure time, gate and seat number. In case of any changes, for example to departure time or gate, the customer receives automatically updated information via the telephone display.

"By introducing the WAP* mobile phone check-in service Swissair has gone a decisive step further in taking full advantage of the most sophisticated communication technology available," said Gerhard Romanescu, Vice President, Swissair Customer Care. "In a pioneering role, Swissair provides the individual customer with tailor-made services they can use irrespective of time or location."

*Wireless Application Protocol

Pervasive computing connects devices to the Internet

The technical basis of this application was developed by IBM Research - Zurich, where scientists are developing elements of a worldwide initiative called "pervasive computing". The goal is to give customers access to Internet-based communications and services via many kinds of devices, including cell phones, personal digital devices, and other everyday electronic devices. IBM is the leading company in providing this type of application for the travel industry, having already provided WAP-based information access solutions to Sabre and Delta Airlines; Swissair's is the first to actually empower the passenger by providing an interactive check-in capability.

"This Swissair travel service is another example of how IBM is partnering with airlines to promote pervasive computing, which extends secure and reliable real-time information and Web-based services to a variety of smart devices," said Mark Bregman, General Manager of IBM Pervasive Computing. "In addition to working with companies in the travel industry, IBM has also enabled enterprises in other industries–such as banking and finance and retail–to extend e-commerce to mobile devices."

More attractive new mobile services possible through WAP technology

In addition to the Swissair check-in service, IBM scientists have demonstrated attractive new services for mobile users, including access to such information as train schedules and telephone listings. As the system "knows" the location of the cellular telephone at all times, it can provide specific local information such as street maps, lists of restaurants, and movie programs. The system can also detect when a cellular telephone, and hence its owner, has arrived at a given place and then trigger a certain function. The travel industry is particularly suited to this type of application.

Further applications under development include electronic banking and ticket sales, for which special security aspects must be accommodated. For this purpose, "WAPable" security mechanisms have been developed. Another emphasis of the WAP research project at IBM's Zurich lab is on supporting various content formats. The Swissair application, for example, could become available not only on WAP cellular telephones but also on a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). This means that the information provider need only maintain one source of information and that customers can be served the same information via the device of their choice–which may depend on their personal preferences, where they are, and what they are doing.

IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. IBM's Global Travel and Transportation industry solutions group provides a broad range of products, services, and integrated solutions to all segments of travel and transportation, including airlines, hotels, rail, and freight logistics. IBM's Pervasive Computing helps customers access and act on information easily whenever they need it and wherever they may be.

Some background on the enabling technology

Delivering information over the Internet to mobile devices faces the considerable challenge of sending and presenting data in a way that makes it usable on a wireless telephone display or other hand-held device. Converting the existing data and applications on a Web site into the appropriate format as well as the interaction mode for these new devices requires new software and services.

To address this challenge, IBM is already providing a range of application-hosting products and authoring tools. Based on this existing set of infrastructure products, IBM has built a server that is able to deliver content to a broad selection of devices, ranging from Web-based HTML clients to WML clients (such as WAP phones) and other alternative content formats. This is achieved by using the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) as a mediator format between the actual content generation elements (usually Java applications) and the markup generation (Java Server Page or style sheet templates). The Swissair application is based on this framework and is thus ready to deliver information to WAP phones as well as other pervasive content formats in the future.

IBM is a member of the WAP Forum, founded by Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Unwired Planet to define the standard protocols for mobile services via cellular phone. WAP specifies the necessary communication protocols and defines a leaner version of HTML (the language of the Web) known as WML (Wireless Markup Language).

Press contact

Nicole Strachowski
Media Relations
IBM Research - Zurich
Tel +41 44 724 84 45

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