IT Is Lukewarm to Wireless Commerce Apps

A year after several hundred companies converged on New Orleans and the CTIA Wireless show to predict that new killer applications would soon make wireless devices overtake PCs, much of that promise is still unfulfilled

A year after several hundred companies including Sun Microsystems Inc. and America Online Inc. converged on New Orleans and the CTIA Wireless show to predict that new killer applications would soon make wireless devices overtake PCs, much of that promise is still unfulfilled.

In particular, over the course of the last 12 months, wireless carriers have been slower to offer services than application developers expected. As a result, developers have shifted gears to focus on mobile e-commerce applications that those carriers can eventually offer, in the hopes of spurring the rollout of higher-speed wireless services.

But this focus on commerce applications rather than applications specifically geared for corporate employees, which will be played out this week at the CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas, is giving would-be corporate wireless customers cause for concern.

For instance, Lucent Technologies Inc., of Murray Hill, N.J., will showcase the MiLife Media Platform at the show. The software, hardware and service package includes voice browsing, audio content aggregation and video streaming capabilities. However, the video streaming will require better bandwidth than current wireless networks offer.

The platform is due in June, when a developers kit for it will be available from Lucents Web site.

Dallas-based InterVoice-Brite Inc. will show off a line of application software aimed at carriers and enterprises that want to offer wireless services to their customers.

The software includes Omnia Messaging, a unified messaging service that includes not only e-mail but also video and music support for wireless phones; Omnia m-Commerce, a payment service for various wireless devices; and Omnia Payment, a billing system for such services.

Cygent Inc., based in San Francisco, will run its eBusiness Support System in conjunction with Everypath Inc.s Mobile Application Platform to demonstrate how companies and operators can render account and service information for mobile customers.

But corporate IT managers planning to attend the show this year said theyre more interested in serving their companies employees than offering wireless services to customers.

"I personally think that enterprises will shift emphasis from serving mobile customers to mobilizing the enterprise: sales force, customer service, field force, etc.," said Francis Rabuck, practice leader for mobile and wireless for Alliance Consulting Group Associates Inc., in Philadelphia.

Issues including security and application integration are also concerns.

"A major focus for us will be back-end applications as well as wireless security," said Erich Berman, advanced technology consultant at Northwestern Mutual, in Milwaukee.

"Those are the issues that currently impact us the most. Our interest in wireless currently is focused on [the] corporate to financial representative. ... Our policy holders and clients currently have only a modest need to get information while mobile."

On that front, Neomar Inc. will introduce its own platform for delivering corporate data to handheld devices, which will focus heavily on security, according to company officials in San Francisco.

"The biggest issue in my mind with this type of service is the security," said Dave Thompson, senior manager of the security practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Boston.

"If I am setting up middleware in my enterprise, then I am doing it to send corporate data out of my network to wireless devices," Thompson said. "This raises very obvious security concerns."

The Neomar Enterprise Server sits behind a corporations firewall, communicating with employees devices through a dedicated connection that eliminates the need to punch holes in the firewall, according to company officials.

Neomar also is introducing a microbrowser that uses wireless PKI (public-key infrastructure) from Certicom Corp. to provide authentication and enable digital signatures.

The Neomar products will be available immediately. Pricing will be on a case-by-case basis, depending on the number of seats.

For its part, OracleMobile, the mobile division of Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif., will announce a more secure version of its Oracle wireless database for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks.

With the help of SmartTrust, a subsidiary of Sonera Corp., OracleMobile will announce that Oracle9i Wireless Edition will now support wireless PKI, sources said. The software is targeted at companies looking to offer wireless access services.

In related news, the CTIA show will feature a host of applications directed toward vertical markets. Wavelink Corp., based in Kirkland, Wash., for example, will demonstrate health care applications that run over the Cellular Digital Packet Data network and 802.11 wireless LAN networks.

iPlanet, the Sun-Netscape Communications Corp. alliance in Palo Alto, Calif., and Oracle will discuss plans to extend their wireless commerce offerings.