Wireless Office Momentum Builds
Hardware and software manufacturers alike are taking more advantage of high-speed networks and evolving industry standards to provide wireless access to corporate applications.
Sharp Electronics Corp. this week at the CTIA Wireless IT show in Las Vegas will announce an enterprise version of its Sharp Mobile Services software in an attempt to garner corporate support for its Linux-based Zaurus handheld computer. Meanwhile, Oracle Corp., which offers custom tools for corporate wireless users, is working to create more standards-based solutions and is readying a beta of the next version of its wireless application server.
Based on technology from Aether Systems Inc., Sharps new server software offers behind-the-firewall access to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange and IBMs Lotus Software divisions Notes e-mail, including the ability to view and edit attachments and to initiate, accept and reject meetings. It also includes a Java virtual machine, said officials at Sharp, in Mahwah, N.J.
Zaurus fills a niche of Linux fans in the industry but has received complaints about its wireless modem, which supports only CDPD (cellular digital packet data) networks. This means that e-mail access is a dial-in pull solution rather than a push solution, which some competitors offermost notably Research in Motion Ltd., which carved an early niche for itself with its RIM BlackBerry e-mail pager and server.
"The Zaurus is impressive because of the extensibility and the essentially open standards-based core technology," said Christopher Bell, CTO of The People2People Group, a media services company in Boston, who uses a RIM BlackBerry. "Ive become convinced that the future for mobile is really Java so they might be in a sweet spot. But the immediacy of the RIM is one of its primary values."
Sharp officials said the company is planning to provide support for faster, always-on General Packet Radio Service networks from AT&T Wireless Services Inc. early next year.
Sharp also said it hopes to have Zaurus support on Sprint PCS Groups new nationwide Code Division Multiple Access 1X network by the end of this year, but company officials said this wont include support for the enterprise server software until Aether completes its own deal with Sprint. Aether officials said the server should support Sprints network by the first quarter of next year.
Available this week, the server will cost $2,500 for 20 licenses and $39 for each additional license. Air time charges depend on the carrier.
Although no release date has been set, Oracle is preparing a beta of a new wireless application server, an upgrade of its Oracle9iAS software, which includes support for several industry standards. The product competes most directly with IBMs WebSphere Everyplace suite.
"There has been an undersupply of standardization in the mobile area," said Jacob Christfort, CTO of Oracles OracleMobile division, in Redwood Shores, Calif. "Now were going toward integrating everything."
The new server will support XHTML (Extensible HTML), Christfort said. Developers can build applications in XHTML and easily port them to Wireless Application Protocol (commonly seen on cell phones) or any of several other wireless browsers. In the past, Oracle had used its proprietary form of XML.
The server also will include support for Java 2 Micro Edition and for Multimedia Messaging Service, which is starting to garner support among carriers but mostly in terms of entertainment applications such as ring tones; Oracle is hoping to change that.
Officials would not say when the next version of the wireless server is due, other than to say that it wont be commercially available in time for OracleWorld next month and probably not by the end of the year. But, said Christfort, "the technology is mostly complete," which is why it will be demonstrated at OracleWorld and CTIA.
British mobile operator Orange S.A.s Wildfire Communications Inc. subsidiary at CTIA will announce that customers can now use its voice-activated Wildfire system to get access to Lotus Notes in addition to the previous ability to call into Microsoft Exchange.
In addition, Certicom Corp. will announce a mobile virtual private network client that supports the Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm as well as public-key infrastructure authentication with digital certificates.