The latest version of S1 Corp.'s Internet banking software, scheduled for release as BTN went to press, will run on mobile devices because, says Charles Ogilvie, executive vice president, "The world is going wireless."

Capitalizing on this movement is Aether Systems Inc., an Owings Mills, MD, provider of wireless applications to various industries, which had a series of wins in the financial sector last year.

Moving from brokerage applications, such as Reuters Inc.'s quotation service, Market Clip and Charles Schwab & Co.'s trading application, Pocketbroker, Aether announced banking projects in autumn with Juniper Financial Corp., Wilmington, DE, and S1 Corp., Atlanta.

Regions Financial Corp., Atlanta, will be the first S1 customer offering wireless banking and bill payment, Ogilvie said. The wireless capabilities of version 5.2 of S1's Consumer Banking product will be extended to, for example, alert customers to the fact that their paycheck has been automatically deposited.

Many analysts predict great opportunities in wireless finance while others question whether the United States will continue to be a mobile banking laggard. The bullish say today's 3 million domestic wireless data users could be 30 million by 2004.

The stock of wireless vendors has suffered lately, though Aether and others gained from a Nokia Corp. prediction last month that there will be a billion mobile phone users worldwide by mid-2002-six months earlier than previously envisaged.

In its latest earnings report, Aether announced a third-quarter operating loss four times worse than previously, despite an 11-fold increase in revenues. The recent 40-cents per share loss owed in part to acquisition charges, the six-year old company explained. Revenue for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 1999, was $16.2 million.

Revenues during the third quarter equalled revenues for the first and second quarters combined-a period in which the revenue increase was nearly 21-fold.

Aethers' late-September announcement of a deal with Juniper Financial followed on the heels of development agreements with S1 and Multex.com Inc. The New York-based firm is the technology provider to TheMarkets.com, an investment banking portal recently created by seven global banks, including Deutsche Bank and Merill Lynch & Co. Aether will develop, host and market Multex.com financial services through wireless devices.

For Juniper, Aether will enable customers to use handheld wireless devices to access account balances, make transfers between accounts and access customer support.

"Financial institutions have been quick to recognize the tremendous value of secure and reliable wireless access ...," says David Oros, Aether's chairman and chief executive. "The agreement with Juniper not only strengthens Aether's mission to provide the best available wireless financial applications, it also allows us to leverage our expertise and leadership in moving strongly into the online banking market."

Aether's principal competitor in the financial services market is Toronto-based 724 Solutions Inc., which recenltly annouced that it will acquire Tantau Software Corp. (See w-Technologies Is On A Wireless Roll, page 31.) Clients of 724 include Citibank, Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.

James Tousignant, president of Multex.com, says, with Aether it will provide "ubiquitous access to brokerage research, earning estimates and other key financial information" in a platform- independent environment.

The two companies will jointly design the new Multex.com wireless services, making financial data accessible through Web-enabled telephones, two-way pagers and other personal digital assistants, or PDAs. A Multex.com spokesman says the company plans to offer the new wireless services in all of its markets, including Multex.com's application service provider Web hosting group, as well as its business-to-business and business-to-consumer services groups.

Equally optimistic, S1 is "real jazzed" about its work with Aether. In a related deal, S1 signed an agreement with SILA Communications, an Aether-Reuters joint venture, to provide wireless services to S1's burgeoning customer base in Europe and Asia. S1 subsidiary, aggregation specialist VerticalOne, will play a key role in S1's forthcoming wireless portal, "Personal Commerce."

Both Aether and S1 say the agreement will complement the services of S1 subsidiary Edify, which supplies on-premise wireless Internet solutions to financial institutions worldwide, including ANZ Bank, Daiwa Bank and Bank of Greece.

While Aether Systems' prospects in the financial services sector rest on both industry and end-user acceptance of the wireless platform, the young company's performance thus far has been impressive. For the six months ended June 30, Aether Systems reported a nearly 21-fold increase in revenue, to $16.2 million, compared with the same period in 1999.

"The strength of our results continues to validate Aether's business plan," Oros asserts, adding, "Quick, thoughtful execution is the key to success in this burgeoning industry."

Matt Ragan is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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