Down to Business

Tapping into real value of wireless Web

Mobile players are increasingly putting the enterprise user at the center of their business plans as they realize they cant make money the same way on the wireless Internet as on the wired Web. Even traditionally consumer-oriented companies are turning to the needs of business users.

"Advertising and marketing is less compelling [on wireless] given the form factor and privacy issues," said Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!. The company that today offers services free to consumers on the Internet and earns revenue from advertising envisions a very different model on the wireless Web. Yahoo! wants to deliver valuable enterprise solutions that business users will be willing to pay for. "The wireless Internet has a higher value proposition because its mobile," he said.

But Yang and others charged wireless operators and vendors with making improvements to network speeds and user devices to spur the market. Last week, at the annual Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association convention, barbs flew as Tom Wheeler, president and CEO of the association, said that Internet users today are satisfied with slow connection speeds. About 80 percent of users connect at 56 kilobits per second or slower and only 23 percent of people who can get faster Digital Subscriber Lines or cable modem service do, Wheeler noted. His point was that near-term wireless data speed advancements will satisfy users.

"I dont think you could be farther from the truth," said Craig Barrett, president and CEO of Intel. Users are prevented from getting high-speed data for one simple reason: "I think its the hassle of dealing with those [high-speed data] companies," he said.

But some very high-speed wireless access technologies are available today and many enterprises are taking advantage of them using existing devices.

"With all due respect to phones, theyre voice devices," said Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer. Dells new laptops each include an antenna built into the flip screen and a radio in the body of the computer enabled for connecting to wireless local area networks (LANs). In the education market, half of the companys sales are of such wireless-enabled devices.

Ultimately, Dell envisions laptops that will include the Bluetooth short-range wireless capability and wireless LAN connectivity, as well as modems that operate on wide area wireless networks such as the General Packet Radio Service technology being built on some networks.

Software and services companies are making it easier for companies to enable their work forces for wireless access to corporate information. Last week, Computer Associates International said it has been working closely with companies including Aether Systems, Motorola and Nokia to help corporations integrate wireless services into their existing enterprise management systems.

Other big names in the enterprise space are aggressively chasing wireless opportunities. OracleMobile has sold its middleware product to several corporations around the globe to help them create mobile applications. Hewlett-Packard and IBM also touted their mobile enabling enterprise solutions at the conference last week.