Internet cell phones? Ready, set . . . wait!

FRAMINGHAM (03/13/2000) - We love to hear about the latest gadgets as much as the next WAN geek, but we're skeptical about the likelihood of Internetcapable cell phones being anything more than expensive torture devices - at least for the next five years or so.

OK, so the usual juggernauts are lined up to develop applications, network infrastructure and end devices. Witness the announcements last month by IBM/AT&T, America Online Inc. and Sprint Corp., Motorola Inc. and Oracle Corp.

Some wireless Web applications are tailored to text-only delivery, which makes things bearable for getting your stock quotes (mission-critical application for any options-laden road warrior), weather, e-mail and news. But anything beyond basic text is downright painful today, and it's not likely to improve in the near term.

Actually, this is good news for most IT managers - it's one less newfangled feature to add to your corporate connectivity plan in the near term. However, chances are you will have to appease the techno-drivers in your firm with some cell-surfing capabilities, so keep the following in mind:

The limitations of end devices, typically 12 lines of viewing space and low-speed connections, means we're stuck waiting for another development cycle before getting out of the painful stage of wireless surfing. Besides the viewing issue, can you imagine typing in a reply on today's keypads? AOL Wireless plans to support instant message exchanges, but if you can't zip out a pithy retort to a coworker's jibe, don't even bother signing on.

History is also on our side with respect to wireless advancements in the U.S.

Internet time in the wireless world comes closer to mirroring the deployment of landline broadband connections such as digital subscriber line and cable modems. Remember that both have been a decade coming. Third-generation networks, which will facilitate high-speed wireless connectivity, aren't expected until closer to mid-decade. Wake us when it gets here.

In the interim, you can begin to flesh out your company's existing cell phone policy. Think managing that is fun now? Wait until you also have to determine who gets to use which applications, not to mention the fun of troubleshooting wireless access via cell phone to your intranet. Your virtual private network strategy will likely need an update as well. After all, you'll need some sort of security solution for a whole new class of mobile end points.

Bottom line: We're going to be living in a major wireless world shortly - from home-based, Bluetooth-enabled dishwashers to video-capable cell phones. It's important to set the expectations of all involved at a reasonable level, including the CEO who needs the latest toy for bragging rights on the golf course. There's going to be a lot of hype. Unfortunately, most of your employees are actually going to believe it.

Briere is CEO and Heckart is president of TeleChoice, a consultancy in Boston.

They can be reached at dbriere@telechoice.com and checkart@telechoice.com.

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