Sprint, Compuware Take on Wireless Web

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2001-03-05

With the grand hope of making the wireless data experience more productive and less cumbersome, Sprint PCS Group and Compuware Corp. are working together to develop customized business applications for use on the Sprint Wireless Web.

But the new tools, which will include a variety of vertical and general business applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management), will face continued resistance from users still wrestling with the usefulness, efficiency and security of wireless applications.

Scheduled to begin rolling out later this year, the tools will be customized according to client needs, said officials at Sprint, in Kansas City, Mo. For example, Compuware will provide advisory, design and implementation services to customers to help them create programs that include wireless meter reading and real-time vehicle tracking for the transportation industry.

In addition to ERP and CRM, applications already in development include sales force automation and remote user support.

Despite the advances, users and vendors agree that the new applications alone wont solve the logistical problems of the wireless-Web carriers.

"If you look at the usability that exists within [Wireless Application Protocol] today, its horrible," said Paul Toenjes, director of professional services at Compuware, in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Some of the blame for that falls to the carriers, which sold home screen space to numerous portal vendors. As a result, when a cell phone user attempts to access a Web home page on a Sprint phone, he or she must first click through links to America Online, The Microsoft Network, Fidelity, Yahoo or those of several other sites.

Sprint officials said theyll honor the deals theyve made with the portals and that there are no plans to change the PCS (Personal Communications Service) phones front screen. But for business customers, the company has started beta tests that include one-click access to a corporate intranet. This feature should be available to customers within a few months, officials said.

Users continue to complain that putting information into a wireless device is as difficult as getting it out.

"Have you ever tried to enter a long e-mail address with a keypad on a phone?" asked Erich Berman, advanced technology consultant at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., in Milwaukee, which is testing 20 different wireless devices. "People just dont want to do that. Were finding better success with [Palm Inc.s] Palm VII and [Research In Motion Ltd.] pagers."

As for its network, Sprint officials said upcoming third-party offerings for the PCS network due in the next several months should reduce customer frustration. These include a wireless-Web modem that supports Windows CE devices (drivers should be available within 30 days, officials said) as well as two new phones with simplified input methods that will run on the Palm OS operating system.

One of the phones, the Kyocera 6035, will have a small keyboard but also feature Palms Graffiti handwriting recognition system. As a result, customers can scrawl e-mail messages rather than peck them out on a tiny keypad. A second phone—from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and code-named Phoenix—includes Graffiti support and a virtual keypad. For customers who prefer their data on a big screen, Sprint also plans to offer support for short-range Bluetooth connections between a cell phone and a notebook computer.

Beyond device support, the next big step for Sprint and its competitors is to roll out 3G, or third-generation, networks. Sprints immediate plan is to offer 1xrt service by early next year. 1xrt is completely packet-based and offers speeds that average 64KB per second.

"I have a tough time seeing the need for third-generation wireless systems when we havent even figured out how to effectively use the second-generation systems," said David Thompson, senior manager of the security practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Boston.

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