IBM outlines its wireless data plans

At IBM's La Gaude Network Innovations Lab near Nice last week, the company set out its thinking on the next generation of mobile...

At IBM's La Gaude Network Innovations Lab near Nice last week, the company set out its thinking on the next generation of mobile services.

The ability for mobile to go beyond voice and SMS and deliver more functions to the business was heralded by Simon Dyson, European vice-president for IBM's communications sector.

He said that the company predicted a "voice/data switchover" in which the world of mobile communications would be transformed by a shift to a data-based wireless model.

IBM believes the change will result from tectonic movements in the mobile provider marketplace combined with advances in mobile server technology.

Telecoms companies face pressure on their revenues and profits in the current model of service provision, said Jin Lee, IBM's vice-president for business innovations services. This situation will be exacerbated by likely pressure from market newcomers competing in voice and SMS provision. He said this will force telecoms firms to open up new revenue streams by providing greater functionality. IBM is offering the technology to create this functionality.

Predicting that the technology of such mobile services will advance quickly, IBM sees the need to be a provider of an open, comprehensive infrastructure that can accommodate new advances. "We are the born-again Christians of open standards," said Dyson.

At La Gaude, IBM demonstrated the ability to connect a mobile user, through a portal, using voice and SMS to any mobile device or analogue phone. Based on IBM's Websphere Portal Server, information held on a personal portal - such as news weather, stock prices - can be requested and configured using SMS or voice.

The incorporation of text-to-speech and voice recognition software means that GSM or future generations of digital or analogue phones can be used to access data while on the move.

Ovum research director, Neil Ward-Dutton said IBM is well-placed to take advantage of a growing demand for next generation mobile services from service providers or businesses. "IBM is in a strong position because of the company's size and ability to provide something that covers all bases in an integrated fashion," he said.

Businesses' biggest headache, Ward-Dutton added, may be planning for success. "You've got to be able to cope with unpredictable demand, so somehow you need to get hold of something you can invest in relatively easily and then grow. You need something that is modular and scalable."

He said he thought an issue for companies is whether they want information to be available to staff when offline. "We think that some organisations will want to run mobile portals which include applications they wish to use when the network isn't running.

"Once you start doing that you are trying to run two environments - the microbrowser environment and something fatter as the client. It will be a real challenge to deliver portfolios of apps using one platform on the device."

The mobile business revolution has been long-promised, but now it looks like the reality could be coming closer. Perhaps the next year will see an increase in levels of sophistication beyond SMS. Ward-Dutton advised IT departments to press suppliers to ask pertinent questions.

"The real technology questions concern things like how easy will it be to manage, how secure can it be and how well can you integrate those security management layers into other things you have. Those are the kind of silent killers people often don't think about until too late," he said.

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