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Mobile Telephony Hits the Enterprise

Relatively few companies have realized the true potential of wireless technology. Yet as the technology grows up, more and more will start to come on board.


May 1, 2001  


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Most large businesses use some form of wireless data service including one-way and two-way paging. The 2001 Wireless Mobile Corporate Survey, conducted recently by The Yankee Group, found that 39 per cent of companies have mobile workers, representing more than 25 per cent of total employees. However, the company’s research also indicated that relatively few corporations have realized true wireless potential, involving mobile access to corporate information.

As the technology matures, and enterprises become more aware of wireless’ value in their business operations, companies will look to mobile connectivity as a means of improving their productivity.

APPLICATION DRIVERS

The key to this development will be major application drivers such as access to corporate e-mail and specific databases that require mobile access. Wireless messaging and e-mail offer mobile employees the ability to perform their job better by maintaining communications with the office and gaining real-time access to critical information stored on corporate systems.

Respondents to the wireless survey also indicated that wireless technology added greater flexibility to telecommuters. Corporate e-mail systems have now become the major communications system, surpassing voice mail in importance. Earlier research data revealed that employees receive at least three e-mails to each voice mail per day.

With the exception of one-way pagers, companies are planning to equip a larger percentage of their mobile workforce with wireless devices over the next three years. Today, notebooks and PDAs are emerging as the preferred devices for wireless data access, but smart phones will also be used more widely for data connectivity.

However, it is unlikely there will be one dominant device. While enterprises may look for voice and data convergence in one device as a means of reducing equipment costs for mobile users, they recognize that a mixture of device usage will continue, with functionality dependant upon need.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

Wireless’ growth will depend on how quickly obstacles, such as high prices, performance, standardization and security, can be overcome. Enterprises do not want to be early adopters — they want the technology to be tried and proven, and standards to be established before they make a commitment.

Wireless solutions have traditionally been high-priced and expensive. There were no packaged solutions, and each implementation required a high level of systems integration that traditional systems integrators or internal IT departments did not have the experience to provide. Today, there are a number of factors driving broader horizontal adoption. The emergence of things like wireless apps (e.g., e-mail), standardization and handheld device adoption have all served to facilitate growth. Access to corporate e-mail, in particular, is a primary driver.

Data emerging from the wireless survey also demonstrated greater concern about coverage and standardization. With greater usage and promotion of wireless services, there is greater awareness of deficiencies in coverage and of the impact on performance and availability.

HOLDING OUT

Until wireless data proves to be a completely reliable technology with a set standard, many companies will be reluctant to devote resources to wireless. Security continues to be a major barrier to adoption, but has dropped in importance relative to other concerns during the past two years. In 1999, survey data recorded security as the primary enterprise concern.

Extending corporate IT systems to wireless devices — cellular phones, PDAs and handheld computers — creates a new delivery channel, broadening accessibility to applications, services and information. This additional degree of freedom will reshape the way business is conducted — both internally and externally with customers and suppliers.

But this is still in the future. Further developments in standards, devices and networking tools are still needed. Enterprises need to work with ASPs and professional service companies to offset the risk and development costs of implementation. They also need to train IT staff in new wireless skills and to deal with such issues as mobility management and wireless security.CS

Jeremy Depow (sitting in for our usual wireless columnist Iain Grant) is a Senior Analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada, a technology-consulting firm in Brockville, ON. In this position, Mr. Depow is responsible for primary research and analysis of new telecommunications technologies and market developments.


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