Wireless consortium meets developer scepticism

A consortium of wireless developers that has staged seminars around the nation in support of wireless broadband has met a software developer community sceptical of wireless technologies.

m.Net Australia aims to help industry profit from the emergence of the mobile Internet. Supported by the Commonwealth government, m.Net's 19 enterprise and research shareholders include Telstra, Alcatel and Cisco Australia.

m.Net CEO Andrew Ekiert said the seminars thus far had found many software developers cautious of mobile technologies.

This was a result of the hype of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), he said, which promised new capabilities for mobile phones but was followed by poor take-up.

Like its broadband Internet cousin then, wireless broadband needs application development before the market can take off.

"We face a challenge more significant than [wired] broadband Internet in that you need handsets in the market for wireless broadband," said Ekiert.

Applications need to be available when handsets flood the market, said Ekiert, otherwise wireless broadband might go the way of WAP.

"[Developers] can start running their application in a GPRS environment," he said, referring to current high speed wireless technology. This way, they will have the basis of their 3G service ready.

"When the market for wireless broadband matures, developers can then add value to that application for 3G," he said.

He said m.Net's North Terrace Precinct, in Whyalla (a node on the m.Net network which is based in Adelaide), one of the few publicly accessible 3G networks in the world, gave Australian developers an edge on their foreign counterparts in that they can test new applications in a real environment.

"The difference with wireless broadband to WAP is that in the last 10 months we've produced something tangible. If you're in Whyalla now, and have a 3G handset, you can make a video conference phone call to someone else who has such a handset."

However, Sydney seminar attendee Jim Hersey, a systems analyst from Fuji Xerox, said following various seminars he had been to about the technology, his personal view was that wireless developers were heading the wrong way.

"As long as they [wireless developers] continue to focus on the mobile phone being the handset for 3G, it will fail," he said. "There won't be a dedicated application for 3G due to their focus on the phone. 3G should be sold to people with the PDA as the minimum handset, not the mobile phone."

"The other day on the train I was browsing the Net on a PDA using 2.5G GPRS. Using a PDA or a laptop, the only limit to the use of 3G is your Internet ability."

Hersey said he had spoken to many people who were interested in making money out of 3G, but had no idea how it would be done.

One area where the benefits of wireless broadband could be seen however is in treating patients in remote locations.

Mobile data and video consultation will not only strengthen health services in these areas, but also cut transport and associated costs, according to Ekiert.

Accordingly, it will be industry that will drive wireless broadband growth before consumers use it.

"Because you need a handset, there has to be a value proposition," said Ekiert.

"It's easier to consider this in vertical markets because you can reduce costs and justify the expense. Then when there's enough handsets in the market, that's when consumer applications will start appearing."

While encouraging software developers to enter the industry, Ekiert also said developers need to put a lot of thought into their investment before developing.

"The way we assess what a value proposition is [for wireless broadband applications], is it must be cheaper, quicker and easier to use than existing methods."

For more details on the Wireless Opportunities Seminars, see http://www.mnetcorporation.com.au/site/media.cfm.

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