Confusion Reigns as Wireless Net Solutions Abound

SAN MATEO (03/22/2000) - As the deployments of post-PC devices increase, so does number of solutions offered to companies wanting to deploy two-way Internet access on small displays. As a result, IT executives are left with myriad confusing choices.

Three companies will be shipping unique wireless handheld solutions for transactional access to the Internet over the next several months.

On April 5 at Internet World, in Los Angeles, Everypath Inc. will announce an ASP (application service provider) hosting solution with a fee between $2,000 and $10,000 per month. The fee is based on site creation, hosting, and maintenance. Everypath can create a site in three to seven days, according to a spokesperson.

Everypath uses technology it calls Intelligent Rendering to downsize a Web site for viewing on a small handheld display.

At the time of the announcement, the company also will announce some major customer wins as well as partnerships.

Etrade will use Everypath to offer a solution for WAP-enabled cell phones.

Hilton Hotels will offer an e-solution for Palm V and Palm VII users as well as for smart phones. MP3, which recently acquired SeeUthere, an events planning site, as well as PayTrust, a bill presentment and payment site, will both use Everypath as their Palm solution.

On the partnership side, Everypath will announce at the show that system integrator Deloitte & Touche will recommend Everypath as a preferred solution for deploying wireless e-commerce.

NetMorf, a 6-month-old startup, will ship its first product, SiteMorfern 2.0, in "a few weeks," according to a company spokesperson. Version 1.0 was not a shipping product.

The NetMorf design tool will include a one-time fee of about $20,000 for site development, and a subscriber fee of 25 cents per unique visitor per month.

NetMorf can create a site in two weeks, according to a spokesperson.

The design tool takes back-end data, supporting all the major databases as well as XML, and with some degree of automation rewrites it to WML (Wireless Markup Language). The WML content is pushed out to a Web site customized for each unique handheld device.

CEO Express, a portal that customizes a home page with user-selected content, will be the first customer to deploy the NetMorf technology to handheld users.

A third company, still in stealth mode, is Marbles, which will take a terminal/server approach to Internet access on handhelds similar to X-windows and Citrix. Code-named MTS (Mobile Terminal Server), it will require 240KB on the client and will be designed for use on the PalmOS, Windows CE, and Win32 platforms.

Marbles is also creating a graphical development environment for dragging and dropping selected objects from an application on to the site. Development time is dependent on the complexity of the application, according to a company spokesperson.

Although MTS was not designed for small-screened cell phones, Marbles CEO Chris Knapp said MTS would most likely be used on the forthcoming new model Cassiopeia handheld device, which will be powered by WinCE and double as a cell phone using the CDPD packet switched network.

Marbles MTS will be available later this quarter.

Many IT managers looking at these and many other solutions are perplexed as to which if any to deploy.

"It is confusing," conceded Max Malek, IT manager at LeMeridien Hotel, in Beverly Hills, part of the Forte International hotel chain.

To date, Malek has considered solutions for the Palm, Casio, Sprint, and SkyTel, with SkyTel being the easiest to use because the hardware comes with a built-in software solution.

"It offers their communications and the hardware in a single device, unlike the others you don't have to get involved with two companies," Malek said.

"The most important thing is the Internet e-mail. My users can directly e-mail me with problems," Malek said. But, he added, "the best solution isn't out yet."

From an IT perspective, what a corporate user wants on a wireless handheld is a lot different from what a consumer wants on a handheld, according to Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, Calif.

Scannell lists security and synchronization as two key corporate requirements.

"IT is dealing with proprietary data such as customer information. With things going through airwaves there is a lot of potential for interception," Scannell said.

"SSL [Security Sockets Layer] doesn't hold any water. It is not secure enough.

IT should be looking at PKI, the public key infrastructure, with 128-kbit encryption that goes beyond SSL," Scannell said.

"The enthusiasm for wireless is ahead of the reality," Scannell said.

Everypath Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., is at www.everypath.com. Marbles Inc., in North Billerica, Mass., is at www.marblesinc.com. NetMorf Inc., in Boston, is at www.netmorf.com.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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