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Product Reviews
January 2003


Telephony and Mobile Transformation Gateway

Net6, Inc.
2740 Zanker Rd., Ste. 201
San Jose, CA 95134
Tel: 408-382-4900
Web: http://www.net6.com
 

Pricing starts at: $3,995 for TTG, $4,995 for MTG

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A


It seems as though every day there is some sort of new display device -- whether it�s a new PDA, new cell phone, IP phone with an XML or HTML browser, tablet PC, hybrid PDA-cell phone, or some sort of gadget with Web capabilities. Also, each of these different display devices can have a different screen resolution, mark-up language support, soft key support, and computing power. When you attempt to access applications from any of these devices the experience is often one of frustration since the display was optimized for the common desktop PC resolutions of 800x600 or 1024x768.

For instance, PDAs or cell phones have resolutions that are one-quarter of that of a traditional desktop PC. Trying to view an application with lots of information or large graphics on a small screen will require lots of up and down scrolling as well as left-to-right scrolling. Just the frustration level of not being able to see the important information on a single-screen -- without having to scroll -- often results in abandoning using the technology or at the very least not realizing its full potential. Thus, what is required is to design and maintain separate applications for each potential display device, which can access the application.

The advantages of allowing any type of display device to easily access the applications in an optimized fashion are endless. For example, suppose you are an e-commerce site such as Buy.com or Amazon and want to give your customers �instant gratification� allowing for impulse buying -- not just from their desktop PC but also from a PDA or cell phone? For example, you could be sitting in the ballpark and ordering a DVD on your cell phone in between innings. Or suppose you�re an enterprise trying to deploy a Web-based application that displays equally well on a desktop PC, a PDA, a cell phone, or any other display device, granting your employees �anytime/anywhere� access. Unfortunately, in most cases you have to re-write the application for each specific device to optimize for each device�s screen capabilities. This development time is time consuming, an ongoing process, and quite costly.

That all changes now. Net6�s Mobile Transformation Gateway (MTG) and Telephony Transformation Gateway (TTG) products automatically transform applications into the appropriate format for each type of device. These two products simply sit on the network and transform Web-based applications using rules you define and then send the transformed information to the device. What this means is that once you have your rules set up, you can design a single application format, which is then reformatted as needed to fit each display device.

INSTALLATION

Installation of both the TTG and MTG was a breeze. We connected a serial cable to both the TTG and MTG and launched HyperTerminal to configure the IP settings for each device. Once this was complete we connected the devices to our network and then utilized their application development environment called Design Studio to manage our projects containing transformation rules that we created.

DOCUMENTATION

TMC Labs was very pleased with the documentation. All of the important manuals had tables of contents and an index table for looking up key features. The layout was very good and very well organized. In addition, bulleted tips helped point out important aspects. Also included were Quick Start guides for the TTG and MTG as well as a Design Studio Getting Started Guide, which was a step-by-step tutorial on using the software. We found that the tutorial was very comprehensive and very useful in helping expedite the learning process.

OPERATIONAL TESTING

Both the TTG and the MTG have similar feature-sets. Both the TTG and the MTG support up to 1,400 simultaneous connections and up to 1,000 user sessions. In addition, you can add more TTGs/MTGs to increase scalability. They support any HTML application (Web server, enterprise application, etc.) as well as support raw XML data sources through XSL transformations (XSLT). In addition the product supports advanced programming by allowing direct upload of XSL style sheets. One important feature of the product is that it automatically removes content not supported by the end device (PDA, WAP phone, IP phone), such as Java applets and Flash programs.

Essentially, the Mobile Transformation Gateway and Telephony Transformation Gateway are almost identical except that the MTG is a super-set of the TTG. The MTG includes all of the features and functionality of the TTG (supports IP phones and Windows CE devices only) but the MTG includes support for cell phones (WAP), PDAs (Windows CE, Palm, and RIM), IP phones, and other mobile devices. The MTG engine provides support for any client that supports HTML, XHTML, WML, cHTML, and XML, while the TTG engine supports HTML- and XML-based clients.

Major functions supported on both the TTG and MTG include authentication, secure connections, secure cookies, VPN support, virtual cookies, and �session stickiness.� The virtual cookies and �session stickiness� are very important features since the TTG and MTG each act as a �proxy� on behalf of the clients to store cookies and maintain sessions. Since not all devices support cookies or can maintain sessions, this is a very important capability and one which TMC Labs was extremely impressed by. For example, many Web sites require cookies for storing your �shopping cart� items. Without the TTG or MTG to maintain these cookies, several devices would be unable to using online shopping carts. Several other Web-based applications also require cookies and/or sessions. We should also point out that both the MTG and TTG support Server Load Balancers. Requests are sent to the IP address of the SLB, which sends the request to the appropriate Web server.

Using Design Studio To Create Rules

You would think that designing complex Web pages for various devices would require an HTML guru. Thankfully through the power of XML and style sheets you can transform any HTML page to contain some or all of the original information in the same or different layout with various elements included or excluded or even additional information added.

We were able to quickly navigate around Design Studio and determine that Design Studio can be broken down into six major steps:

  1. Create a configuration file and at least one project -- very easy.
  2. Add a Web page to one of the projects -- very easy.
  3. Create Identifier rules for the Web page -- slightly complex, but easier with practice.
  4. Create Transformation rules for the page -- complex, but again, easier with practice.
  5. Preview the page in an emulator -- very easy.
  6. Publish the project to the MTG/TTG -- very easy.
Since the first two steps simply involve choosing a configuration name, adding a project name, and then adding a Web page to be transformed, we will skip addressing these two steps in any detail.

Step 3: Create Identifier Rules For The Web Page

Before a transformation rule can be applied to manipulate a Web page, it must first use the �Identifier� rule to identify and match the Web page to apply the corresponding transformation rules. In this way you can apply different transformation rules to different Web pages. Since a different Web page often contains a different layout as well as information displayed, it may require a different set of transformation rules, thus by using the �Identifier� rule you can match pages as needed. Of course, you can make the �Identifier� rule as �general� or as �specific� as your needs require. For instance, if you have a Web application that has a home page and sub-pages with almost the exact same layout, then you can probably use just a single identifier rule that encompasses both the home page and all of the sub-pages. Basically the rule of thumb is to make the identifier rule as �global� as possible and only match to a specific sub-set (i.e., a sub-URL) when needed.

Step 4: Create Transformation Rules For The Page

Once the Web page has been identified, we then proceeded to test the Transformation, which we found to be very flexible. For instance, a transformation rule can apply to just one element on one Web page (image, table, text, etc.) for one particular device type or a transformation rule can apply to many instances of an element across several pages for all device types.

One of the simplest Transformation rules is the Select rule. Before you can perform other transformation rules you must first use the Select command to select how much or how little of the Web page you wish to display. Simply by using the Select command, you can very quickly exclude or include various elements of a Web page. Once you have selected the elements you wish to keep, you can create your Transformation rules for each display device (WAP, Palm, WinCE, IP Phone, etc.)

There are several powerful Transformation rules for modifying both the content and layout of the Web page. For instance, the Modify command changes one type of element to another type of element. For example, you can change an �hr� element (horizontal rule) to a �br� element (break). You can also replace an element with XHTML/XML code or text; you can add, change, or remove element attributes.

Similarly, the �Insert� rule adds an element, text, or blocks of HTML/XML code that was not part of the original Web page. The �Move� rule is a very powerful rule that allows you to relocate an element. This is a crucial rule utilized to optimize screen real estate, especially on very small screens. Both the Clip rule and Ignore rule are also very useful. The Clip rule can be used to exclude an element and any child elements, while the Ignore rule can actually override a Select Rule or Clip rule, which is useful in certain situations. The Refresh rule is also rather interesting. Specific to IP phones only, it allows you to specify that a particular screen is to be refreshed after a specified number of seconds. So you can for example display a splash screen with a logo or graphic, advertisement, or a message on IP phones. We tested this feature and actually displayed our corporate TMC logo before loading our TMCnet.com home page.

Other transformation rules include:

IMG ALT -- replaces an image with its alternate text. Useful in instances when the images are large or do not display well on small screens.

Dial Number -- For WAP devices and IP phones only, allows a user to dial a displayed phone number by selecting it.

Import XSL -- Applies custom XSL to a particular element. By importing XSL, you can achieve transformations that are not possible via other transformation rules. For example, you can import XSL that performs string manipulation on a URL string.

Group -- For WAP devices and IP phones only, this feature groups links and removes non �a href� elements that are inside of the grouped area.

Soft Key -- For IP phones only, defines an �a href� element or a phone number as a Soft Key. You can also add Soft Keys.

Within Design Studio we created different transformation rules specific to Pocket PC/CE devices as well as rules for Cisco IP phones. We also imported some of Net6�s own style sheets including transformation rules that they provide on their Web site. (More on that later.) After creating all our transformation rules, the next step was to �test� them using Net6�s included emulators.

Step 5: Preview The Page In An Emulator

The Design Studio supports six emulators, including an HTML/Windows CE emulator, WAP/HDML, Palm, RIM, Cisco IP Phone, and Voice XML. Simply by choosing one of these emulators you can view what the Web content would look like on these devices. This is certainly useful when developing since it doesn�t require possession of any of these devices.

Step 6: Publish The Project To The MTG/TTG

This final step is a very simple operation, which with a single click of a button downloads (publishes) the transformation rules in your project to the MTG/TTG device. If the project already exists, it asks you if you wish to �merge� or �overwrite� the existing rules.

VIEWING THE RESULTS

We proceeded to test our transformation rules application we created in Design Studio from a Pocket PC browser as well as from a Cisco 7960 series IP phone we had in the lab. First, we tested our newly created application viewing it from a Pocket PC�s browser. We should mention that the TTG and MTG gives us the capability to �smash left� all of the Web content. This is especially useful on small displays when you need to eliminate as much white space as possible and view all of the content without having to left-right scroll in addition to up-down scrolling.

Next, we tested some of Net6�s own style sheets that they provide as a free download on their Web site. Some sample style sheets they provide include Yahoo Yellow Pages, Yahoo Mail, FedEx, Fandango, Dictionary.com, and more. By simple downloading the style sheets via the Web to the TTG or MTG we were able to easily view these sites with an optimal format for each display device, without the need to reinvent the wheel. Net6 also includes a style sheet for Microsoft�s Outlook Web Access (OWA), which we tested on an iPaq. Normally on an iPaq we had to scroll left-right to see everything, but not with Net6�s style sheet. Everything fits on the page width and we merely needed to scroll up-down. The old method we were using of synchronizing e-mail was tedious to say the least. Thus, we were quite impressed with the usability of using a PocketPC to access our e-mail �live� without the need for synchronization. Finally, we tested viewing Web content from the Cisco 7960 Series IP phone. It performed flawlessly and as expected.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

There was not much to complain about with this product. It worked exactly as advertised and did a fine job doing it. We only had some minor usability complaints. For instance, we could not use the �Del� to delete either projects or rules from the Design Studio application. Also, we would like the ability to move one or more HTML elements simply by dragging-and-dropping them to its new location.

Currently Net6�s product does not support client side style sheets and attributes. Thus, when we tried browsing via the MTG to a Web page with style sheets (such as Hotmail.com) using a standard desktop PC, it wasn�t rendered exactly the same as when browsed directly from the desktop PC�s browser. However, we are told that Net6 will be supporting client side style sheets and attributes in a future release. Thus, the user will have a similar experience directly connected or through the Gateway using a desktop PC�s browser.

CONCLUSION

Cisco and other IP phone vendors are very interested in Net6�s technology. Cisco actually OEM�s Net6�s product and calls it the Cisco CTE 1400. We should point out that the IP phone vendors are in the business of trying to leverage their IP phones with LCD screen displays and XML/HTML browsing capabilities. They want you to buy the more expensive IP phones with larger LCD displays. The question is how do they convince you that you need a high-end IP phone with a high-res LCD display? After all, if the customer has the choice between a $500 IP phone with a 1-line LCD display and a $1,000 IP-phone with a high-resolution 200x300 display, the customer will have to rationalize this extra cost.

Well, the IP phone vendors can convince the customer of the value of using the Web capabilities of their more expensive IP phones by enabling the use of popular applications via the IP phone. We should point out that without Net6�s technology, trying to access a Web-based application such as a corporate directory, or Microsoft�s Outlook Web Access from the IP phone�s small LCD display is a nightmare, since as we mentioned Web pages are traditionally designed with a desktop PC�s screen in mind. But by utilizing Net6�s technology the experience can be much improved allowing for quick e-mail access, access to the corporate directory along with one-button dialing, and other interesting and integrated applications from the IP phone.

While an IP phone�s Web browser will never replace the desktop PC�s browser it is a nice capability to have available. Certainly, Net6�s TTG helps to drastically improve the experience of accessing Web-based applications from an IP phone. Executives and CXOs will no doubt love the ability to quickly get stock quotes from their phone, view the current longest hold time for their call center, browse the Web, or even send a quick e-mail message without the need for a PC. Remote teleworkers and telecommuters will also enjoy the benefits that Net6�s Mobile and Telephony Transformation Gateway bring to the table, since they can access corporate applications from their IP phones or PDAs.

Another potential beneficiary of this technology is a university, which can sell advertising space on IP phone screens in student dorms. In the carrier space, Net6�s transformation gateways can deliver customized content to IP phones and wireless devices and offer it as an extra option to an IP Centrex or IP-PBX service. These are but a few examples of how Net6�s technology can be utilized. Essentially, we could sum up Net6�s technology by stating that it is the ideal solution to extend corporate applications to any display device.

Since Net6�s product uses industry standards such as HTML, WAP, and XML, it can not only support today�s display devices, but it is future-proof against any newfangled device that comes to market. With its simple function, use of standards, and extensive features, TMC Labs was very pleased with Net6�s Mobile and Telephony Transformation Gateways and would recommend it to anyone looking to alleviate development costs or to anyone looking to extend the reach of their Web applications to the plethora of Web-enabled devices that exist today.

[ Return To The January 2003 Table Of Contents ]



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