T-Mobile Family Room

A private and personalised social network to keep families safely connected.

T-Mobile Family Room

A private and personalised social network to keep families safely connected.

T-Mobile needed to implement the application and its server infrastructure while facing a tight deadline. They decided to build the solution with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional and base it on Windows Phone and the Windows Azure platform. By taking advantage of an integrated development environment and cloud services, the company completed the project in just six weeks. Using a cloud platform instead of maintaining physical servers has also simplified management. As a result, developers have more time available to focus on enhancing the application. Customers will benefit from a streamlined, reliable communications solution with strong security, and T-Mobile is already designing new features for users to enjoy.

Situation

T-Mobile USA is a leading provider of wireless telecommunications services in the United States. Based in Bellevue, Washington, the company also sells mobile phones and other products through its website and from thousands of locations. T-Mobile has 42,000 employees and more than 33 million customers nationwide. It offers international coverage through its parent company, Deutsche Telekom.

T-Mobile knew that people were more connected than ever through multiple social networks and mobile devices. The company saw an opportunity to simplify communications for families. “We realized that there is a need for family members to connect with one another outside larger social networks,” says Joshua Lipe, Product Manager of Devices at T-Mobile. “We wanted to offer a more intimate solution for people who need to plan things and communicate with each other on a regular basis.”

T-Mobile began planning an application that family members could use to coordinate activities and share photos and other information. The company sought a mobile phone solution that it could easily customize to support an integrated set of features. It also faced several development challenges, including a tight deadline. “When we started to talk about how this application would come to life, it became clear that one of the biggest constraints we had was time,” says Lipe. “When you’re time-compressed your options are limited, but you also want to go with the easiest and most efficient way of getting things done.”

The company also wanted the freedom to focus on developing and fine-tuning the mobile application without worrying about deploying and maintaining server computers, storage devices, and other infrastructure. It decided to look for a cloud-based platform that would help simplify implementation and ensure reliability. Protecting customer data was another top priority. “This will be an enterprise undertaking; people will rely on this application in the cloud,” says Lipe. “I needed to know that it’s going to work how I need it to and that it’s always available.”

Solution

In February 2010, T-Mobile met with Microsoft to discuss the possibility of deploying its application on Windows Phones. When the company learned more about an upcoming release, Windows Phone, it knew it had found the right choice. The phone includes unique features such as Hubs, which bring web content and applications together for specific tasks. This capability would be an ideal foundation for the T-Mobile® Family Room application.

Other technology enhancements would be helpful as well. For example, T-Mobile could use the Microsoft Push Notification Service in Windows Phone to automatically update information across multiple Windows Phones. With other phones, a mobile application typically polls a web service to check for pending notifications. With Windows Phone, a web service could send an alert to the application, reducing the device’s bandwidth and battery consumption.

Working with Windows Phone would also simplify implementation. The company could speed time-to-market with familiar tools such as the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4. With an outline for the project in place, T-Mobile and Microsoft asked Matchbox Mobile, a mobile software development company, to join the project team. Matchbox Mobile creates innovative applications for original equipment manufacturers, wireless operators, and other vendors. The Microsoft Certified Partner offers a full range of services, including research and development, testing, and implementation.

The next step was choosing a cloud-based infrastructure for hosting the application and data. The team considered multiple services, including offerings from vendors it already worked with. In the end, it chose the Windows Azure platform, a set of cloud computing services that includes the Windows Azure operating system and the Microsoft SQL Azure relational database. “We talked about a lot of different cloud options,” says Lipe. “At the end of the day, we felt that the Windows Azure platform best met our needs with the right feature set, compatibility, and reliability.” Matthew Calamatta, Technical Consultant at Matchbox Mobile, adds, “We found that, with Windows Azure, we could build the solution very quickly.”

T-Mobile was also confident that it could better protect customer information with the Windows Azure platform. With Windows Communication Foundation—a component of the .NET Framework—the team could create a web service that used HTTPS and Transport Layer Security. It could also implement certificate-based authentication.

Working with Visual Studio 2010, the team began a rapid development process with a completion deadline of two months. Matchbox Mobile developers split into two groups, one that worked on the client application while the other designed software for the web server. However, developers from both groups quickly discovered they could work together to expedite the project. “The common tool set and sophistication of the development process with Visual Studio 2010 meant that we could get people from both teams working together,” says Calamatta. “So if people finished something on the client side, they could immediately work on integrating it with the web server.”

In just six weeks, the team delivered its first Family Room application for Windows Phone. The application includes a Live Tile displayed on the phone’s Start screen. By using Family Room, members can update calendar information and write notes to the group on a virtual chalkboard. They will also be able to share photos. A web-based application running on Windows Azure completes tasks such as sending push notifications to phones, authenticating devices, and registering new users. Data is stored with the SQL Azure database, and the company also uses SQL Azure analytic tools.

The application is available on the new HTC HD7 Windows Phone from T-Mobile.

Benefits

By basing its new Family Room application on Microsoft software, T-Mobile USA accelerated time-to-market. The company is also able to manage the solution easily, simplify communications for users, and provide strong security. It looks forward to developing additional innovative features.

Speeds Time-to-Market

Microsoft software helped T-Mobile bring its new application to market faster. By streamlining the development process and taking advantage of cloud-based computing services, the company was ready to launch the application within two months. “We liked that we could use Visual Studio 2010 to develop both the client application and the back end,” says Calamatta. “The fact that we could work with Windows Phone and the Windows Azure platform using a unified set of tools and technologies was one of the top benefits for us.”

Lipe agrees that the project was a success. “Compared with applications I’ve launched in the past, this solution for Windows Phone has been a lot easier to get up and running,” he says. “Simplicity of execution ties into faster time-to-market.”

Simplifies Management

After delivering the software, Matchbox Mobile has continued to manage the Family Room solution. Because the application runs on the Windows Azure platform maintained by Microsoft, Matchbox Mobile can meet high service level agreements without needing to manage physical servers. As a result, its developers have more time available to build new software features. Calamatta says, “By using the Windows Azure platform, we can focus on what we do best, which is creating cool applications.”

Enhances Communications

T-Mobile anticipates that its software will simplify communications and enhance the quality of life for users by helping them focus on a smaller social network—the family. “Our Family Room application and Windows Phone drive awareness of activity and share that information with the group,” says Lipe. “The solution brings it all together in one place so people can manage their lives more easily and stay close to the people who matter the most to them.”

Provides Strong Security

Both T-Mobile and Matchbox Mobile are confident that the new solution will help protect customer data. “We wanted to provide strong security for customer data as it traveled from the server to the client and back again,” says Calamatta. “We felt that Windows Azure gave us the right tools to meet that goal.”

With the Windows Azure platform, T- Mobile can offer customers levels of protection that include private key encryption and data centers with multiple security controls and certifications. “The platform gives us peace of mind that we can just roll out the system and say, ‘Look, these are the security specifications of Windows Azure—you can measure and test them.”

Supports Innovation

T-Mobile can continue to enhance its product line with new mobile technologies and cloud-based computing services. Lipe says, “As a mobile phone operator, it’s a no-brainer to couple Windows Phone with the Windows Azure platform.”

He adds that the solution has both the capabilities and reliability the company needs to expand its offerings. “I’m confident that as we move forward and implement richer feature sets, Windows Phone and the Windows Azure platform will be able to scale and support a lot of capabilities,” Lipe says. “We can continue to work with built-in features and build out our solution.”

“Compared with applications I’ve launched in the past, this solution for Windows Phone has been a lot easier to get up and running. Simplicity of execution ties into faster time-to-market.”
Joshua Lipe
Product Manager of Devices, T-Mobile

Services

  • User Experience
  • Visual Design
  • Development
  • Testing