Focus on today, leave 3G for now

As telecoms suppliers prepare for next week's 3GSM conference, they must be chilled by a CMA survey that shows 61% of companies...

As telecoms suppliers prepare for next week's 3GSM conference, they must be chilled by a CMA survey that shows 61% of companies have no plans to use 3G when services start.

The question for IT directors is whether the survey respondents have got it right, and 3G will prove an unnecessary upgrade, or whether they are missing a trick and it will provide significant business benefits, even if they are not apparent now. How many people, after all, could claim to have foreseen the applications that generally-available broadband internet access would offer over dial-up?

Even if applications requiring higher broadband mobile data rates with a good return on investment do emerge, there are doubts about whether 3G will be the mobile data technology that reaps the benefit. Some suppliers are already discussing 3.5G and 4G, and wireless Lan is a strong competing technology. Also, it will be a number of years before GPRS is no longer sufficient for most businesses.

The implications of backing the wrong technology and having to change strategy are considerable, with hardware, content, integration and roll-out costs representing a significant investment. Early adoption of 3G is only for the brave and most visionary.

Given the investment already made in buying licences (£22.5bn), never mind deploying the infrastructure, developing applications and marketing, it is unlikely suppliers will reduce their commitment to its roll out. But, at the moment, 3G gives the impression of being a technology in search of a business case. Until it can reverse this impression, it runs the risk of becoming one of the most costly failures UK business has seen.

While we wait and see on 3G, there are significant business applications of GPRS and wireless Lan technology that IT directors can be evaluating and implementing. According to the CMA, adoption of Bluetooth and GPRS technologies rose 30% last year, and research by Yankee Group estimates nearly 50% of large European enterprises will have deployed them by the end of 2004.

The ability to allow mobile workers to access corporate e-mail systems is becoming commonplace. Allowing mobile workers extended access beyond e-mail and into management systems, such as ERP, is the next strategic issue. Evaluating the costs, the implications for business processes and the resulting ROI are the priorities.

In taking this approach, users will be concentrating on getting the most out of their investment in GPRS and leave concerns about when and if to implement 3G for another time.

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