Time for New Mobile Messaging Strategy, Analysts Say

Reporter's Notebook: Missing links include improved wireless network management tools, synchronization standards and app integration, analysts observe at a wireless business conference. However, questions of cost and adoption are unanswered.

CHICAGO—The time has come to rethink the assumptions that have shaped the mobile messaging industry, according to software and services vendors. Whats needed by businesses are services that concentrate on customer needs, rather than the usual technology offerings by mobile telcos or handset makers.

That was the consensus sounded Monday at the keynote panel of the Mobile Business Expo here.

"This industry has been very operator-focused, and has historically had nothing to do with how you run an enterprise," said John Dolan, Oracle Corp. vice president of product management, wireless and voice division.

"Its time to rethink the mobile strategy. The goal should be to get data, wirelessly, to a tremendous amount of people in an organization. Not just five to 10 executives."

As part of this new focus, wireless business applications needed to become as seamless as using a TV remote control, Dolan said.

"Everything should be integrated—everything should work out of the box," he said. "Mobility needs to be institutionalized at software companies. It has to be a part of the thinking of every group."

To foster this focus, Oracle rewrote its software licenses to include licensing for mobile applications. The company is also rewriting its software to accommodate wireless applications.

Still, synchronization standards for the industry will be needed to enable a Palm Inc. Treo or a Pocket PC-based handset to use applications designed originally for PCs, Dolan said.

Another technology area that needs to be cultivated is network monitoring tools for wireless networks. These tools should be similar to those used to monitor networks in Fortune 500 companies all over the world today, he continued.

"We cant continue to ask clients to go wireless without any control over their networks," he added. "No company is going to pay to have their clients go to Starbucks to do their work."

Whats more, an integrated system that would like the monthly billing for wireless devices—PDAs, mobile phones and the like—should emerge too, Dolan said.

"Mobile network operators have a $5 billion market from ring tones—they dont have much of a motivation to address this," he added. "They dont want to deal with the problems of field service reps."

There will be opportunities for companies to address these and other problems, but not directly in the telcom business today, according to Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, a firm that advises C-level executives on wireless strategy, and a former analyst with the Yankee Group.

"This is a time of incredible change in the telecom industry," said Lowenstein, during the keynote session. "There are just three major carriers [Sprint Nextel Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., and Cingular Wireless] today, down from six a few years ago. This is also a time of technological change. Plus there are disruptive factors, like Google, eBay and Skype."

During the next year, the rollout of third-generation, or 3G, wireless networks will likely be complete in many cities, Lowenstein said.

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Verizon thus far has launched 3G services in about 80 cities, Sprint is in about 75 cities and airports, and Cingular Wireless should be offering its next-generation wireless by the end of the year, Lowenstein said.

"Then you will be finally able to think of the cellular network as the default network for your data," said Lowenstein. "Is it as good as Ethernet? No. Is it good enough? Yes."

To go along with the new networks, there will be enhanced capabilities on mobile devices.

Lowenstein said that he predicts that by next year, 60 percent of all mobile phones will have removable storage capability.

That will have an impact on the way work is done wirelessly.

Today, only 5 percent of wireless network industry revenues come from data transfer. But with the third-generation networks, that will shift. There are questions as to how the networks will compete, analysts said.

"How will they differentiate themselves?" Lowenstein asked. "The carriers are unsure where to make their bets. From a carriers point of view, the question is, How far do we want to go? Frankly, the carriers are looking to the enterprise market to step it up—that would be Oracle, Microsoft and Siebel," he said.

Lowenstein said that many companies today willingly pay $30 a month for a mobile salesperson to carry a BlackBerry, but if the fee rises to above $100, that could create challenges, and change the decision-making.

"This will be an interesting debate," said Lowenstein.

For example, there are only some 3.5 million mobile e-mail subscribers globally, Lowenstein noted.

Right now, only about 20 percent of wireless data accounts are directly paid for by enterprises, and the rest are financed by employees themselves, and only sometimes reimbursed by the employer.

"There are many gray areas of use," said Lowenstein. "This will have to be cleared up."

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