The big news from the CTIA Wireless 2006 show in Las Vegas is convergence -- for the providers and for the networks -- that will first benefit consumers and ultimately enterprises.
So while most of the products and technologies on display don't present an immediate value proposition to enterprise operations, once the kinks in delivery systems are smoothed out and the promise of interoperability is realized, much of the functionality can be repurposed for use in enterprise applications.
But a few products were on hand that do have an immediate interest for the enterprise.
Carriers are upgrading their back-end networks to all IP and are building gateways to allow interoperability with wireless LANs (WLAN) and other IP networks. For road warriors, this means that soon you'll only need one device and it will have network access just about everywhere!
For users who have access problems in their building, home office or even on the road, products like the S-Series from RadioFrame and Nokia build on the open IP network to deliver access. The S-Series picocell -- basically a small cellular base station -- can be put in the home office or even hotel DSL line and suddenly you have a picocell in your house or hotel that is part of your provider's cell network. "Mobile operators can deploy this solution by making use of DSL and cable broadband packet-switched networks for backhaul connectivity," said Ari Lehtoranta, senior vice president and general manager of Radio Networks at Nokia.
Companies that want to deliver applications seamlessly to their mobile workforce on standard handset devices can consult with LogicaCMG. LogicaCMG is a system integration specialist combining expertise in IT infrastructure with telecom back-end and handset delivery. It services the finance, ultility, industrial, public service and telecom verticals. Owsin Eleonora, vice president of Global Telecoms at Logica, reminded me that, "Logica is cutting edge but very quiet about it." Indeed, the company invented the SMS message, which is something most people don't know.
On the user side, nearly all handset manufacturers will have dual-mode phones that operate on both the licensed cellular frequencies and the unlicensed WLAN frequencies on the market by next year. The idea behind this at one time was called Always Best Connected, where the mobile unit would choose the best signal depending on user parameters such as reliability and cost. Using the WLAN network for call services is known as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). It provides cost savings in that it delivers services over an IP network and can also be used by an IT department in an enterprise to increase mobile performance and in-building coverage.
A major headache in the corporate IT space is securing the handset device that a mobile worker uses. The SD Card Association, a 900-company organization, has been working on a standardized security solution that can be implemented on the PC and the handset. James Taylor, executive director of Digital Networking Business Worldwide at Panasonic Corp., and an association representative, said that his firm has been working with a pharmaceutical industry consortium to standardize access tokens on a secure SD card. "[The National Institute of Standards and Technology] has certified the drivers for this card, and unlike USB ports which are only found on PCs, SD cards are on both PCs and mobile units, and the SD association is working to ensure that SD slots are manufactured into many devices."
The particular appeal of this technology to IT departments is that access to content or the network from a mobile device becomes operator and device independent. Also, should the device become compromised or stolen, the IT group has full control of it and can initiate a remote destroy command without depending on the carrier.
GPS-driven services are of interest to the enterprise user and road warrior. Many handsets now include a GPS locator device and products like MapQuest Navigator for handhelds use that locator to provide a valuable service. Alan Beiagi, general manager at MapQuest Wireless, said, "In addition to functioning like an in-car navigation device complete with audio directions, the MapQuest Navigator also provides pedestrian directions." The navigator system knows the difference between sidewalks and roads and the logic that is used when traveling on foot vs. in a vehicle. In addition, the MapQuest Web service is now available for free via any WAP-enabled browser.