Emerging Technology

Into the Future - Without Wires

Imagine using your mobile-phone to check your e-mail, join a videoconference or make hotel reservations any time, anywhere. Heard it all before? This time, it might really happen.

Upcoming third-generation (3G) wireless technology promises to seamlessly pass calls - at speeds of up to 2Mbps - across previously incompatible networks. Proponents say the promised breakthrough will pave the way for a new era of wireless broadband content and applications, including multimedia, electronic commerce, mobile stock trading and intelligent agent shopping. Some highly optimistic boosters are predicting that 3G may eventually supplant conventional voice phone networks.

Others note that 3G hasn't even left the drawing board yet. "The standards issue is still being ironed out," says Brian Cotton, director of consulting at Frost & Sullivan, a US-based technology research firm. At the moment, it looks like 3G will be based on either Code Division Multiple Access 2000 (CDMA2000), a favourite of US mobile phone carriers and equipment manufacturers, which have invested heavily in the technology, or Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA), which is supported by European mobile telecom interests. Opinions differ on which standard offers the best balance between performance and bandwidth efficiency. "We're already seeing a sort of US versus Europe thing coming up," says Cotton.

Presuming that the industry can agree on a single standard, 3G will offer users no-hassle worldwide voice-and-data coverage. "You can take your cell phone, with full high-speed Internet access, to another city, state or country on the other side of the world," says Cotton. "It will provide true seamless roaming with none of the compatibility problems that face today's mobile phone users."

Between the ongoing 3G standards battle and the reluctance of many carriers and equipment makers to ditch their current - and very profitable - mobile phone technologies in favour of a new and untried system, it may be years before 3G becomes a household word.

"You'll probably see 3G in trial stages in 2004 or 2005," predicts Eddie Hold, senior analyst for wireless services at Current Analysis, a US-based technology research company. Most important, Hold wonders if mobile phone users will baulk at the sky-high price of 3G phones.

"All service providers are talking about wireless Internet services, but nothing that will sell a customer a $500 handset at this point. Hold has one piece of advice for starry-eyed 3G enthusiasts: "Remember Iridium."

-John Edwards

Eye on the Customer

If you hear a knock, knock, knocking at the door, chances are it'll be salespeople hawking customer relationship management (CRM) wares. And they're eyeing a huge market opportunity: companies are expected to spend a combined $US90 billion in 2003 integrating new CRM systems.

At least these are the numbers being bandied about by market researcher IDC. Worldwide CRM services revenues, including consulting, systems integration and outsourcing, will exceed $US40 billion in 1999, and jump to a staggering $US90 billion in 2003, predicts IDC. These figures dwarf those previously presented by Aberdeen Group, a Boston-based research company, which forecasted that the CRM market will hit $US4.45 billion by 2001.

The whirl of CRM hype centres around an ambitious goal: building an integrated and corporatewide view of the customer. By tying together all the front-office functions that involve customer contact, companies aim to present a single face to the customer.

This means that disparate customer-care and ERP systems must be linked. More important, however, customer-facing IT systems in sales, marketing, call centres and online support must become organisationally and technically integrated.

Why all the fuss? It's good old-fashioned customer service speak, says Katrina Menzigian, manager for IDC's CRM services research program.

"It's cheaper to encourage existing customers to buy more products and services than it is to court new customers . . . and today's consumers have little tolerance for inefficient customer service," she says.

Consequently, corporations are creating new departments and job titles, such as vice president of customer care. Vendors and service providers haven't missed the signs, either.

Companies big and small, from all sorts of backgrounds, are staking out the market for the first time, according to IDC.

Within the past 18 months, most of the major consulting and systems integration firms have introduced a CRM offering.

- Tom Kaneshige

New Products

Putting a Spell on Quayle

Finally, the computer industry has produced a technology that overlooks the inconsistencies of the English language, hides human ineptitude and proliferates spelling gaffes - all in a single bound. Glancing at top-level executives' handwritten memos, one thing becomes crystal clear: correct spelling is overrated. It's no wonder these people have a hard time finding things on the Web. Typing in "stategies" instead of "strategies" on a Web browser usually won't yield the desired results.

CyrshNet Technologies (yes, that's the correct spelling) has found a way around this widespread epidemic of inexcusable analphabetism. Late last year the California-based software developer unveiled browser products that it claims will help spelling-dysfunctional people surf the Web faster.

CyrshNet's technology enables users to enter a misspelled company or product name into the browser's URL field. Then it takes them to the right place.

CyrshNet requires no plug-ins and no special hardware. It works with any browser and virtually any database platform. Free 30-day trials of CyrshNet products are available to business Web sites and individual Internet users. Give it a try. In the words of cyber-jester Technogecko.com: Hukt awn fonix wurkt fur mee. For more information, visit www.cyrsh.com.

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