Supplier rift hits mobile progress

Wireless: Analysts berate suppliers for not making the most of opportunities, as car makers take the plunge

Wireless: Analysts berate suppliers for not making the most of opportunities, as car makers take the plunge

Wireless Internet access could help your company now. Staff on the move need it to do their jobs - to find information and communicate with the corporate back-office at speed.

But IT analyst group Ovum said in a report released last week that, despite the hype about the nirvana of the "wireless Internet", true mobile connectivity is a long way off. Indeed, effective business mobile computing is a market space that currently has no true players.

The Ovum research concluded that a potential $29bn (£19.3bn) market is going begging because existing players - mobile providers and software suppliers - are shackled by "legacy mindsets" which are an obstacle to achieving mobile business networks.

Ovum identified that users want connectivity to all their applications from wherever they are. But mobile providers and software suppliers have business models which stand in the way of this goal. "There is an enormous difference between the business and consumer markets," said Ovum's Jessica Figueres, the report's co-author.

Mobile providers are concerned with maximum traffic throughput on their networks and are only addressing individuals, treating the business user as a consumer who spends a little more, she said.

Meanwhile, software suppliers are simply promoting the "bells and whistles" available on their products.

Mobile providers do not care what application you already use as long as it is running on their network. And software suppliers do not care about the network as long as you use their "rich functionality" across it.

To combat the disparity between the respective priorities of these two camps, Ovum has called for wireless middleware to link devices to the corporate network, packaged solutions to bring cheap interoperability and a speedy move to IPv6 to provide the sheer volume of dynamic addresses needed for widespread general packet radio services (GPRS) adoption.

Ovum said the remedy is for mobile and software providers to collaborate before they can enter a stage of competition which is not harmful to the end-user. They need to stop trying to "own the customer" and start partnering to provide businesses with appropriate solutions.

Consumers do not need to worry about application integration, systems management, service level agreements and flexible pricing models - businesses do, and this is what is needed, Ovum's report said.

Businesses should not wait for 3G, said Ovum. They should begin to formulate mobile strategies for 2G and especially 2.5G (GPRS) networks. Bandwidth is not a big issue, said Ovum - making a point which is central to their argument. The real problem is that software suppliers are not tailoring applications to make use of limited bandwidth available.

Thomas Reuner, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, agrees in part but sees the problem as natural to a new technology.

"Convergence is happening slowly. It is true that there are different sets of players in the market - a learning process is taking place and mistakes are being made.

"Expectations are high and this has distorted some people's conceptions of time. It will happen but not all will be able to play the game and we may have to adjust timelines.

"It is easy to be overly negative but we will see a shakeout and a change of business models," he said.

Whatever the timescale, mobile business needs to be enabled by convergence - not just of technologies, but between the two sides of the mobile divide.

Businesses need to remind the IT supplier community that their business processes need to be addressed with technology. The hot air wasted on hype could be better expended in collaboration to bring usable mobile computing to the enterprise.

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