TechSnap: Wireless Goes Prime Time

With 60 million mobile workers in the country, wireless computing has been a technology waiting to boom. That wait will soon be over.

"The market for this technology was supposed to be the next big thing in 2001, but immature technology, combined with the crash of the dotcom era, put off the growth phase of this market, which should resume toward the end of 2002," says Dennis Gaughan, Research Director for AMR Research (Boston, Mass.). "[Next year] should be the first year of significant deployment of mobile technology by the enterprise."

Top Ten Wireless Application Platform Vendors by 2002 Revenue
  1. Aether Systems
  2. Sybase
  3. IBM
  4. Sun Microsystems
  5. Air2Web
  6. Everypath
  7. Oracle
  8. Epic Data
  9. 724 Solutions
  10. BEA Systems

Source: AMR Research

In the meantime, wireless deployments have continued to grow, although slowly. AMR says wireless platform spending grew by 18 percent in 2001, followed by a 7 percent increase this year. In general, such spending has been for small pilots to test the technology or for applications targeted toward a particular type of employee rather than enterprisewide.

"We are seeing a lot of initial 'kicking the tires,' and sales teams or customer service teams evaluating particular wireless applications that may fit what they do," says Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group Inc. "We are not yet seeing a lot of consciousness that a standard corporate wireless solution needs to be put in place."

Real Value
As organizations test these applications, they're discovering real value for the enterprise, at least as long as the projects are designed with specific business goals in mind. Gone are the days of simply "empowering the knowledge workers." But targeted wireless applications for sales force automation, customer relationship management, shipment tracking, dispatching of technicians and inventory management have all demonstrated their usefulness.

"What's going to justify the whole investment has to be made very clear from the outset, built on solid numbers, very clear ROI, and with a short-term focus," says Charles Golvin, senior analyst for Forrester Research in San Francisco. "You need to show how the company will be made more productive, save money, improve sales, or whatever the core metric is."

Wireless Development and Middleware Products

Citrix Systems Inc.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
(954) 267-3000

Enterprise 3
Tarantella Inc.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
(888) 831-9700

Aether Fusion Development Platform
Aether Systems Inc.
Owings Mills, Md.
(410) 654-6400

Websphere MQ Series
IBM Corp.
White Plains, N.Y.
(888) 746-7426

Workstyle Server Edition
Wireless Knowledge
(a Qualcomm subsidiary)
San Diego, Calif.
(800) 656-6400

Infowave Wireless Business Engine
Infowave Software Inc.
Vancouver, British Columbia
(800) 463-6928

SURE Exchange
Broadcloud Communications Inc.
Austin, Texas
(866) 249-2224

Motivus Software Ltd.
Vancouver, British Columbia
(866) 668-4887

Easier Deployment
The past two years have seen a gradual maturing of the wireless technology product offerings, which make wireless easier to deploy, more widely accessible and more useful. Among them:

  • Operating System Integration: Microsoft has included support for 802.11b (WiFi) connections as part of Windows XP. The Wireless Zero Configuration service automatically scans for available wireless networks and configures the connection without user intervention.

  • Wireless Application Support: Database and application vendors such as SAP, Sybase and Oracle have wireless user interfaces for their products.

  • Middleware and Development Tools: More products are now available to ease the burden of creating custom applications or making existing applications available to mobile workers. (See "Wireless Development and Middleware Products.")

  • Infrastructure Build-Out: 2.5G cellular service is now widely available, with 3G services arriving starting in 2003; 802.11b service is available in select locations such as airports, universities and some Starbucks coffee houses.

  • Management: IBM Corp.'s Tivoli, Computer Associates International's Unicenter and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView all have modules to manage wireless devices as part of the network, including software deployment and backup.

  • Standardized Applications: Pre-built wireless software is available from vendors such as Aether Systems Inc. and VisionAir, or ASPs such as

Getting Help
Although it's getting easier, setting up services for mobile and wireless users is still a specialty often outside the expertise of a company's IT staff. This is leading to rapid growth for mobile and wireless professional services—those professionals who provide consulting, implementation, operations, support and training on wireless topics.

"The wireless industry, though not new, is still an emerging market," says Sophie Mayo, director of IDC's Wireless and eCommerce Implementation Services research. "We are far from reaching any type of maturity, taking into account how technology is constantly evolving."

According to IDC, enterprises spent approximately $3 billion on such services in 2001, a 138 percent increase over the previous year. IDC predicts that this will continue to grow at 59 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), surpassing the $30 billion dollar level in 2006.

The top providers in this area are:

  • IBM Global Services (White Plains, N.Y.)
  • Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (New York, N.Y.)
  • Fujitsu (Tokyo, Japan)
  • PwC Consulting (New York, N.Y.) (recently acquired by IBM)
  • KPMG Consulting, Inc. (McLean, Va.)
  • EDS Corporation (Plano, Texas)

Wireless Carrier Technologies

  • 1G (First Generation): Analog cell phone transmissions primarily for voice.
  • 2G: 9.6Kbps voice and some digital data, primarily Short Messaging System (SMS) text messages. Widely available.
  • 2.5G: Backward-compatible with 2G but has higher transmission rates—144Kbps possible, but actual services in the 40 to 70Kbps. Roughly equivalent to a 56K dialup connection. Broadly available in major cities, but service is spotty in less populated areas.
  • 3G: First available in Japan, is being rolled out in the U.S. from 2003 to 2006. Higher bandwidth (386K) makes it useful for multimedia operations. Eases application development since it uses packet-based technologies, as does the Internet.
  • 4G: Standards still being defined, but current visions include higher transmission speeds (100 to 200 Mbps) along with a convergence of various wireless technologies so that the same device can be used with a wireless device inside the corporate wireless LAN as well as outside the building. Deployment in about 10 years.

Wireless LAN Technologies

  • Bluetooth: 720Kbps with a 10-meter range. Used primarily for Personal Area Networks (PAN) and for point-to-point connections.
  • 802.11: A group of IEEE standards using the Ethernet protocol including 802.11 (1-2 Mbps), 802.11a (24 Mpbs), 802.11b (11 Mbps) and 802.11g (54 Mbps). 802.11b, also known as "WiFi" is used in corporate networks, as well as select public locations such as airports.