All for One, and One System For All
Posted: 01.01.06 - By Tim Scannell


As the head of a games-based solutions company that specializes in creating virtual environments for corporate team members to assume different roles and act out elaborate “what if” scenarios, Jim Piggot is clearly a few steps ahead of the technology curve. As a former VP of NCR, he is also well aware of the importance of utilizing the latest IT tools to put your best foot forward in the business world.
However, when this CEO of Team Play Learning Dynamics wants to keep track of his latest appointments or pull up the name of a potential distributor, he relies on an older Palm-based device that is devoid of any of the wireless capabilities or double-duty voice communications features that seem to be a standard part of most PDA offerings on the market today.
“Right now, this device fits my purpose,” says Piggot. “I may upgrade to a newer system to get e-mails … but, I also use more dedicated devices for those things,” he explains.
In fact, rapid and mobile access to e-mail may be the most dominant factor driving the development and evolution of handheld PDAs, data-enabled cell phones and mobile interactive messaging devices worldwide. It is also the reason why the demand is decreasing for generic PDAs that lack any kind of wireless communications features, and business users are snapping up more flexible pen-based devices running on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and other operating system platforms.

In Europe, for example, the corporate e-mail market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 36 percent, mushrooming to approximately 13.5 million users by 2009, according to recent statistics released by International Data Corp. (IDC). Much of this digital traffic will be channeled through a range of BlackBerry devices manufactured by Research in Motion (RIM), as well as wireless systems that license the two-way message technology.

An increasing amount of this e-mail chatter, however, will also wend its way through a variety of wireless technologies—from personal-area Bluetooth and “near-field” networks to 802.11 and more robust wide-area network infrastructures. Most of these converged networking capabilities are becoming available in an emerging new class of mobile devices, which are built upon a cell phone platform and take a Swiss Army knife approach to providing business tools and wireless conduits to the mobile professional.

While some of these new systems use the Palm operating environment, most are built on more compact, and in some cases more capable, operating systems such as those from Symbian and Microsoft. The Symbian OS is presently the dominant OS in advanced cell phones and emerging smartphone devices, with roughly a 55.9 percent market share, while Microsoft and its Windows Mobile platform is a distant second place with almost a 13 percent market share, according to IDC. Coming up fast are small and multifunctional mobile systems that are based on Linux, with an 11.3 percent market share that is expected to expand to 17 percent by 2009.

A Mind for Mobile Management

Despite the numbers, it is the applications that will drive the development and use of newer-generation mobile systems, especially as executives lose their patience for dragging along a suitcase-full of different mobile systems and plug-in accessories and chargers.

A smaller universe of devices also means a company can put more emphasis on mobile device management, as opposed to defensive security management, says Joseph Owen, VP of engineering at iAnywhere Solutions, a division of Sybase, which develops solutions to synchronize and manage all types of mobile devices in the field. “You want to have that ability to push out new security policies and software patches to any device and across any network.”
While RIM and its BlackBerry systems continue to be popular competitive targets, and rumors continue to swirl about the possible implications of pending copyright lawsuits and infringed patents, the Canadian company still sets the standard in terms of e-mail–centric devices that reliably transfer messages and files between users. In October, RIM unveiled the BlackBerry 7100 Series, which closely resembles a cellular handset but combines technologies to offer cellular phone capabilities, a built-in keyboard, support for corporate e-mail, personal organization software, the ability to handle third-party Java-based applications and Web browsing via a high-resolution color display. A version of this device (the 7100i), available from wireless service provider Sprint Nextel, also offers GPS navigation and the company’s well-known walkie-talkie capability.

Verizon Wireless puts its own spin on the 7100 with a model (the 7130e) that supports its high-speed Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) wireless network, delivering wireless data access speeds up to 700 Kbps. This means the phone/PDA can function very capably as a wireless modem for notebooks that connect to it via Bluetooth, which eliminates the need for a separate cellular modem card plugged into the computer’s PCMCIA slot and an additional wireless service plan.

Barking at BlackBerry

One of the “look and feel” pioneers in the area of converged handheld devices is Handspring, which developed the Treo series of PDA devices to compete with similar devices offered by then Palm Computer and later evolved that design to create the Treo 600 Series of smartphones, which were the first to elegantly and efficiently combine data and voice capabilities into a single mobile format. Palm Computer later split into two divisions with one of them, PalmOne (recently returning to its branding roots as Palm, Inc.), acquiring the assets and technology of Handspring. Palm now owns the Treo 600 brand and has refined it even further with the introduction of the Treo 650.

The Treo 650 is easily the top dog in terms of corporate acceptance and the ability to handle most any personal or corporate e-mail structure. The compact unit is a very capable cell phone, full-featured PDA and viable extension to remote offices and corporate servers since it can accommodate and comfortably display attached files and other documents on its small but sharp screen. E-mail can be accessed through traditional synchronization (Microsoft ActiveSync), through a personal wireless service provider connection or directly from the company server and Outlook Exchange software.

The Treo 650 is presently on deck to provide the most powerful competitive swing against RIM and its family of devices because of its slick design and the fact that it is based on the Palm OS, which already enjoys wide recognition among globe-trotting executives. That edge will also sharpen significantly now that Palm and Microsoft have reached a strategic agreement to license the Windows Mobile operating environment on a new line of Treo smartphones due out early this year. While some Palm purists may view this move as something akin to software treason, most analysts and corporate buyers see it as a step in the right direction when it comes to satisfying the approved purchase lists of many corporations.

The Treo 700 Smartphone on Windows Mobile will first be available on the Verizon Wireless network and take advantage of its EV-DO service with download speeds up to 700 Kbps. This a big plus for both Palm and Microsoft, since faster wireless speeds are needed as mobile applications become more sophisticated and connections back to a server or corporate host resource more frequent.

A Mobile Springboard

In fact, the business world’s need for mobile speed may be a critical springboard as Microsoft continues its Windows Mobile push worldwide since the introduction of Windows Mobile 5 in May 2005. In October, for example, Hewlett-Packard and Cingular Wireless released the iPAQ hw6500 Series Mobile Messenger, said to be the first Pocket PC-type device to use the wireless carrier’s high-speed EDGE network.

The kinetic market energy surrounding Windows Mobile has motivated some companies, such as iAnywhere Solutions and its Afaria product division, to throw their support behind Windows Mobile 5.0. “There is not a big universe now, but there is the belief there will be a big uptake,” said iAnywhere’s Joe Owen a few months after the introduction of the new operating environment.

Still, there are some concerns about the compatibility of Windows Mobile 5.0 and server-based network management systems from companies other than Microsoft, which may create some problems for companies that are not totally on the Bill Gates bandwagon. There are also efforts from open-source proponents to develop operating systems that do not have a technical allegiance to any one vendor or platform. Late last year, for example, PalmSource, France Telecom’s Orange and a handful of other companies banded together to form the Linux Phone Standard Forum (LiPS), which is dedicated to establishing a market for open-source mobile phones. Other groups, like the Open Mobile Terminal Platform Group and the Open Mobile Alliance, share this enthusiasm for an open software alternative. These efforts may not create much immediate competition, though, since phones based on open software and interfaces are not expected to be available until sometime in 2007.

For now, new mobile systems that are based on the Palm OS and Windows Mobile will offer the most competition for RIM, and not just because these devices have a comfortable and familiar user interface or can make use of a wide range of software applications. Most executives really only use a small, core collection of software, so this isn’t a huge differentiator when it comes to device selection. What does matter, however, is the capability of a device to work in a global arena (meaning it has to support multiple communications networks), and its ability to duplicate the functionality of a notebook computer—albeit in a more compact form.

RIM is moving fast to meet these needs with the introduction of the 7100 Series and more recent 8700 Series, which is based on the 312MHz Intel PXA901 processor, designed to handle more complex sales force automation, field service and systems management applications. Earlier in 2005, RIM also launched the BlackBerry Mobile Data System (MDS), which is an applications development environment that supports Web Services and provides a visual development tool to handle XML-based legacy data.

RIM and Palm have already signed an agreement that will let Treo 650 owners access BlackBerry e-mail and calendar information via a client option called BlackBerry Connect, which will undoubtedly open a few more doors to both companies in the corporate customer world. This is good for RIM because it can expand its universe of corporate users. However, the question facing the Canadian company and most every other handheld maker with a PDA heritage that has stretched its hardware platform with wireless communications capabilities is, “What kind of impact will smartphones have when they come flooding into the market?”

Many of the cell phones available today already do a commendable job of combining multiple pieces of hardware into a single small device. One of the slickest out there right now is the LG Electronics VX9800, which adds a camera, stereo speakers, MiniSD memory card slot, hidden qwerty keyboard, MP3 player and even a business card reader to a cell phone.

The device can access e-mail, but is targeted more at general consumers than the business market. In order to appeal to business users, the secret sauce is in the underlying applications and infrastructure of the device, which means that the real battles will be fought in the land of mobile middleware.

Lord of the Ringtones

Nokia knows this and has aggressively moved to shore up its software framework by focusing on the two areas of most interest to the corporate market: security and real-time synchronization. Earlier this year, the company joined forces with Symantec to offer anti-virus software for its popular Series 60 mobile phones. The software is designed to protect against viruses that could land on a user’s phone via an e-mail or instant message, a Bluetooth exchange or an over-the-air software upgrade.

This is a significant step forward since up to 90 percent of the installed base of smartphone devices worldwide lack any kind of protection that would limit the potential for a security breach or all-out virus attack.

While security can be a relatively easy task when you are dealing with text-based e-mail transferred over traditional Internet service providers (ISPs) such as America Online and EarthLink, it is a bit more complicated when dealing with enterprise-class messaging and applications exchanged over cellular networks, explains Michael Riemer, executive VP of Trust Digital, a leading mobile security solutions company. “It becomes very difficult if you are talking about security in an enterprise and doing end-to-end encryption and trying to sniff for viruses or malware. In this case, security will definitely be driven by the applications,” he says.
Obviously, leading handset makers such as Nokia are very focused on applications as the driver for smartphone development and sales. Recently, the company announced plans to acquire wireless middleware company Intellisync, in a deal valued at approximately $430 million. If this deal goes through, Nokia will be well positioned to take on BlackBerry and even Palm in a battle for residence in an executive’s briefcase or Italian-tailored suit. The Intellisync Mobile Suite software is designed to juggle such things as e-mail, calendar entries, contacts and other information channeled from most every mobile OS platform. An integrated XML tool also opens a gateway to popular CRM and SFA applications, and the software’s file synchronization capabilities ensure that everyone in a company is on the right page in terms of data updates. Major companies that presently use the software include Siemens, Unisys, Ernst & Young, Walgreens and Hawaiian Airlines.

Nothing in mobility is a sure slam-dunk, however, as countless vendors and users who have chased the wrong technology can attest. Although hardware takes a secondary role when it comes to underlying software and effective mobile middleware, it is no less important in the grand and converged scheme of things. This is especially true as more wireless networks come into play and the need for a device that plays well in all these RF fields becomes more apparent. This is why the major wireless handset makers are looking into packing all sorts of wireless chips into a small device, from high-speed wide area wireless to good old Wi-Fi and even the ability to read radio frequency ID (RFID) tags.

The problem is you can only stuff so many chips into the limited real estate of your average smartphone before it takes on the characteristics of a brick. The solution then is to adopt emerging technology that can accommodate multiple wireless communications structures with a single chip through a software approach.

This is exactly the strategy behind BitWave Semiconductor’s Softransceiver RFIC technology, which relies on software that can be transfigured to adapt to a variety of different communications architectures on a single CMOS chip design. The idea is to provide a platform that will allow network operators to offer services on demand, regardless of the available wireless network, and let device manufacturers build a single programmable radio that can be used in every mobile device.

The first samplings of BitWave’s technology, which was developed in collaboration with a number of leading U.S. universities, are not scheduled to be available until sometime in the summer of 2006, but release of this news and some specifications give a clear idea of just where converged devices are heading—which is away from reliance on pockets of incompatible networks and a sea of disparate devices and more toward systems that are based on individual applications and solutions.

Tim Scannell is the founder and principle analyst at Shoreline Research and U.S. managing director of 2in10 Ltd., a product marketing and sales solutions company based in Scotland (www.2in10.com).

 


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