Carriers tout wireless application services

Attempting to gain favor with enterprises that are demanding wireless access to enterprise applications, Cingular Wireless LLC, Sprint Corp., and AvantGo Inc. are on the verge of rolling out server-side technologies.

Designed to work inside the firewall, the products reflect IT executives' unwillingness to trust service providers with the management of technology that offers wireless connectivity to corporate data.

Cingular at its Wave 2002 conference in Las Vegas on May 14 will unveil -- along with partners Neomar and Siebel Systems Inc. -- an extensible single-server solution that can deploy and manage multiple corporate applications out to a range of wireless devices such as PDAs and phones.

Cingular's offering, now in trials, uses the NES (Neomar Enterprise Server) software that can send an HTTP request to any application server.

"It's like moving all your applications to one super-box," said Butch Winters, Neomar CEO.

NES also has a number of modules that talk to standard-industry technologies providing authorization management, load balancing, and fail-over capabilities. In addition, it has a push management module that can send either event-based or time-based alerts to desktop or handheld devices.

Neomar's technology, which forms the basis of Cingular's offering for corporate customers, will be deployed at Atlanta-based Cingular during the next 12 months. The technology allows IT executives to manage a variety of devices from a single console, said Stephen Krom, Cingular's vice president of business marketing and product development.

Sprint is also chasing the enterprise with the Sprint PCS Business Connection Enterprise Edition, to be officially launched later this year as a corporate version of its Personal Edition.

The Personal Edition offers users e-mail and PIM (personal information manager) access from a Sprint phone to their desktops, while the Enterprise Edition will give users direct access to Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes Domino servers on the network.

Hayward, Calif.-based AvantGo, for its part, will on May 13 announce an extension to its server infrastructure, AvantGo M-Business Server 5.0 Application Edition, which will use Web services to enable more feature-rich corporate applications to be deployed to wireless devices.

Version 5.0 of the AvantGo platform for wireless devices is the first to support both access to Web service protocols residing on top of corporate apps as well as enabling application developers to use any of the current Web service development environments, including Microsoft VisualStudio .Net, C#, and Java.

The M-Business Server 5.0 Application Edition is targeted at Microsoft Corp. Pocket PC, Palm OS, and RIM (Research In Motion Ltd.) BlackBerry wireless handheld devices.

AvantGo CEO Felix Lin said reducing management issues is the key to winning the heart of corporate IT.

"We believe if you want to minimize the number of servers you want to manage, those servers should integrate seamlessly with your access control and authentication infrastructure," Lin said.

It's at this point that Sprint is hedging its bets on the delivery models that enterprises may adopt, announcing last week a Sprint-hosted service for access to Microsoft Exchange.

But analysts warn enterprises are reluctant to use any solution that does not offer control on their side of the firewall.

"That has been holding up a lot of mission-critical application development within the enterprise. Enterprise users are mandating that they want to maintain control. For things like pricing catalogs they are willing to have a third-party host it, but not for competitive data," said Tim Scannell, president of ShoreLine Research in Quincey, Mass.

"Because the Cingular solution can manage and handle things inside the firewall, it sounds solid. But any time you use wireless there are still security concerns. Not as many, but it doesn't go away," Scannell said.

Josh Greenbaum, a principle with Enterprise Appications Consulting in Daly City, Calif., concurs.

"You're really talking about the politics of outsourcing. At the end of the day, outsourcing does not revolve around pure logic, and when it does the logic is very complicated," Greenbaum said.

Meanwhile, Cingular is also working to prove the technology within its own walls, revealing it will deploy Siebel's sales force management modules to its sales force of about 2,000 seats over the next 12 months, according to Neal Wolfson, vice president of account services for Neomar, in San Francisco.

The application, which runs on RIM wireless devices and the Siebel Wireless Module, will allow the Cingular corporate sales force to perform such tasks as lead management, account contact, and order status.

"IT departments say if you want true [corporate] penetration in the enterprise, help us better manage. Right now I have to touch every desktop to put in synchronization software and redirector software. They want one box to manage." said Cingular's Krom.

"You don't have to add any new enterprise infrastructure," Wolfson said.

Another key component Cingular is testing in the wireless solution is Neomar's client browser.

"There are a certain set of problems that a server alone cannot solve," said John Troyer, a co-founder at Neomar.

According to Troyer the Neomar client browser allows the system to be smarter as the client feeds the back-end server information such as bandwidth usage, allowing the server to use of varying levels of data compression.

The HTML and x-HTML browser also contain offline storage for when a wireless connection is lost or unavailable.

Cingular's Krom believes a significant opportunity exists for the offering.

"There are more than 20 million-plus users of Microsoft Exchange Server alone who have not yet deployed access to corporate e-mail wirelessly," Krom said.

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