Cost, Reliability Impede Wireless Device Adoption

NEW YORK (06/30/2000) - Even though mobile computing announcements took center stage at PC Expo here this week, attendees voiced their displeasure with the speed and reliability of wireless devices - problems that continue to impede the expansion of corporate applications.

For example, Frank Faras, vice president of engineering at Energy Photovoltaics Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey, said he believes a wireless network connection could help the company's 500 engineers communicate more effectively with the home office when they travel. The company manufactures products used to generate solar energy in factories worldwide.

Ideally, a wireless device would enable engineers to troubleshoot equipment or download factory diagrams without being tied to a hotel room or one of the company's offices, Faras said. But wireless connections are still too slow, and mobile devices lack the bandwidth to download graphics or HTML code, he added.

At PC Expo, vendors such as Palm Inc. in Santa Clara, California, announced plans to address some of these issues. For example, Palm said it expects to support multiple expansion standards in its operating system and add additional storage capabilities by early next year.

Internet service provider GoAmerica Inc. in Hackensack, New Jersey, also announced at the conference that it has licensed Oracle Corp.'s wireless portal software. The companies claimed that the partnership will allow workers to access corporate information from any mobile device.

However, some users said these actions don't address core infrastructure issues that still need to be resolved.

"The infrastructure is still not there for wireless," said Tom Bachrach, a senior systems engineer at Salomon Smith Barney Inc. in Rutherford, New Jersey.

Bachrach, who attended the show to evaluate messaging servers, said wireless messaging would be useful to the Wall Street brokerage in the event of a disaster: Employees could still exchange e-mail and do other work until Salomon's systems were up and running again.

But that's a pie-in-the-sky application, Bachrach said. Although he acknowledged that handhelds are a fraction of the price of PCs, he said delving into mobile computing can still be a costly proposition because the products aren't mature.

Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, has reported that although a personal digital assistant may cost only $450, the total cost of ownership - factoring in software licensing and service charges - can cost almost $3,000 per user each year.

On top of that, corporate customers also have to bear support and security costs, according to Mary McCarthy, an information services analyst at Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut. If it used handhelds, the hospital would have to train clinical staff on how to use the devices and then also would face a great risk of losing the equipment because the facility is open to the public, McCarthy said.

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