Mobility's Mayflower sets sail

In the field of wireless technology, the United States still lags in third place behind Europe and Asia. So, it's no surprise that Nokia revealed its aggressive new enterprise mobile strategy in Amsterdam instead of San Francisco. Nokia's Enterprise Summit 2004 gave the phone maker and its software partners a chance to show off the present and future of enterprise wireless mobility. I left the summit convinced that enterprise mobility is going to play out ahead of my predicted schedule. Real, stable, flexible connectedness between workers; large-scale messaging; and back-end applications are already here -- except by "here" I don't mean in the United States. But it's all on the way. Nokia and its partners have already loaded the steamer.

It's hard to look around at mobile enterprise devices and software here in Amsterdam without pouting, "How come I can't just take this home?" The U.S. wireless market is too fractured, and American businesses are too skeptical. Wireless operators such as Cingular Wireless, T-Mobile USA, and AT&T are Nokia's only channel of distribution. Consulting companies such as IBM Global Services, VARs that want to craft enterprise mobility solutions for midsize businesses, and system builders serving small businesses need the freedom to sell bundles of devices, services, and software.

U.S. businesses tend to pigeonhole wireless based on the capabilities devices have when they come out of their boxes. A BlackBerry is presumed to handle only e-mail with a little PIM and voice on the side. We, in the US, are reluctant to accept what Europe and Asia take for granted: A phone is a platform.

In client platforms, Nokia has kicked the development of business-relevant features into high gear. For simple applications, Nokia has implemented a full HTML browser with JavaScript and a plug-in API similar to that in Internet Explorer and Netscape. Secure back-end connectivity is enhanced with the addition of IPSec and VPN as standard features. Over-the-air synchronization is now part of the platform, as is device management using the SyncML protocol. And platform support for Web services is on the horizon.

Partner vendors have stepped forward with powerful extensions to Nokia's platforms. For example, IBM's WECM (WebSphere Everywhere Connection Manager) extends Nokia's constant IP connectivity to make it resilient for business applications. WECM automatically roams among cellular data, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth services based on available services. It's now possible to port network client software that assumes it's plugged in to Ethernet.

Nokia's hardware convincer for the jaundiced U.S. market is coming in the form of the Communicator 9300 and 9500 devices, clamshells with extra-wide color displays and surprisingly roomy QWERTY keyboards. These are the first true contenders in the "leave your notebook at home" category. The 9300 is exceptionally trim considering its capabilities, and the 9500 adds Wi-Fi to the Bluetooth and cellular data connectivity common to both devices.

I'm camping out at the Port of Dallas to await the arrival of enterprise mobility. All that's left is the journey, clearance through the customs agents at the Federal Communications Commission, and navigation past the pickpockets who want an unearned piece of Nokia's action.

Tom Yager is technical director of the InfoWorld Test Center.

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