It's in the palm of your hand

Once software matches hardware mobile business promises a wealth of opportunities, writes Ross Bentley

Once software matches hardware mobile business promises a wealth of opportunities, writes Ross Bentley

If you can't even guarantee that a conversation can be completed on a mobile phone, how can we expect transactions and software downloads to be fulfilled over a wireless network? This is one of the big questions looming over the future of mobile computing and mobile commerce.

Val Rahmani, vice-president of IBM's European communication sector, acknowledges that this is a major sticking point but says she has been given reassurances by the major telecommunications companies that the networks will become increasingly reliable in tandem with the broadening of bandwidths and the increasing sophistication of mobile devices.

"At a recent forum one of Ericsson's top people pledged that 100% coverage will come with third generation wireless networks. I said that we are working on technologies that will take advantage of this and we are trusting you to make it happen," Rahmani says.

"It makes sense that these companies, after having invested so much in the operating licences, work hard to make reliable wireless coverage happen because only then will there be the user take-up to recoup that money."

So can mobile phones and other hand-held devices really deliver mission-critical data and deal with the robust needs of business users? Rahmani says it depends on what you mean by mission-critical. "Of course, you wouldn't run an aircraft traffic control system over a wireless network. Butfor applications such as confirming flight details or bidding in an online auction, wireless access offers a new generation of convenience and at that point is mission-critical.

"If you hit a black spot and you lose the connection, you need to know at what point you cut out and whether you completed the transaction or not. It's that uncertainty that is the real frustration," she says. "IBM has developed software that tells users at what point they lost the connection, so at the very least the users can start again where they left off."

Rahmani is also excited by the developments in location-tracing. She says the next generation of mobile devices will have global positioning by satellite technology built in.

"This means that anyone receiving a transaction or message sent over the network will know down to the nearest 100 square metres where the sender is located.

"This has huge implications for business intelligence applications. Companies will be able build up personalised profiles of people's movements and find out whether there is any correlation between location and purchasing decisions," she says.

"Once you start thinking about the possibilities of this technology it really is exciting."

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