Wireless Carriers: Enterprise or Bust

U.S.-based wireless carriers are determined to develop enterprise services even though trends overseas indicate the consumer market may be the most lucrative place for the technology.

ORLANDO, Fla.--U.S.-based wireless carriers are determined to develop enterprise services even though trends overseas indicate the consumer market may be the most lucrative place for the technology.

Leading the push is Sprint PCS Group, which last week at CTIA Wireless here unveiled plans to bring its Business Connect corporate application access service to Handspring Inc.s Treo handheld device.

As a result, Treo customers will have wireless access to IBMs Lotus Software divisions Notes and Microsoft Corp.s Exchange data. A Sprint-branded version of the Treo that runs on Sprints next-generation wireless network will be available when the network launches this summer, officials said.

Beyond basic access to Exchange and Notes data, however, the company plans to partner with IBM Global Services for customized enterprise solutions, said Jay Highley, vice president of the Business Customer Unit at Sprint PCS, in Overland Park, Kan.

AT&T Wireless also plans a carrier-hosted service for companies looking to give employees wireless access to their corporate applications, according to Rod Nelson, chief technology officer at the Redmond, Wash., company. AT&T Wireless has a partnership with Infowave Inc., wherein AT&T recommends that corporate customers install Infowaves middleware behind their firewalls before installing a wireless network.

The company is also looking at how to bring wireless LAN technology into its portfolio, as 802.11b, or WiFi, products continue to make inroads in the enterprise.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, is testing its initial third-generation services on a corporate audience. Next month, the company will team with Lucent Technologies Inc. to launch a high-speed data service trial in the Washington area. Using Code Division Multiple Access-based 1xEV-DO technology, the data transmissions could be as fast as 2.4M bps. And by using virtual private networks, the service will provide users with secure access to corporate applications, said Verizon Wireless officials in Bedminster, N.J. The company will launch a similar trial with Nortel Networks Inc. in June, officials said.

Both Verizon and Sprint are also selling Audiovox Corp.s new Thera Pocket PC handheld, which offers integrated wireless capabilities. Officials at both companies said they expect a corporate audience for the device.

The flurry of enterprise wireless activity here is in stark contrast to the wireless world in Europe and Japan. Wireless providers there are banking on multimedia and consumer applications being the driving forces for 3G. Indeed, most white papers and public demonstrations of 3G technology from international carriers at the show dealt more with streaming video than with fast access to enterprise applications. This concerns U.S. companies that say their customers are looking overseas to see which technologies take hold and which fail.

"Theres considerable overhang because of the overpromise in Europe," said Eric Schultz, CEO of Wireless Knowledge Inc., in San Diego, which makes wireless middleware. Demonstrations of movies played on phones isnt helping the case that 3G is practical or necessary.

"I want the utility, not the concept," said Nicholas Gass, IT manager at Color Kinetics Inc., a digital lighting company in Boston. "Costs are a big factor in initial acceptance of new technologies and make it all the more likely it will be corporations and their needs that will spur the growth of 3G services, rather than features for the consumer."

The rest of the world doesnt seem to agree. "[Mobile Messaging Service] is leading the pack," said Niklas Savander, vice president of mobile Internet services at Nokia Corp., in Espoo, Finland. Issues such as authentication and digital rights management are closer to the bottom of the list, Savander said.

At the show, the heads of NTT DoCoMo Inc., Telecom Italia Mobile and Korea Telecom Freetel Inc. echoed the sentiment that video messaging is where they see the future of 3G. They also said they see a future in wireless advertising, an area that U.S. carriers have avoided. "The advertising business model is pretty discredited [here]," AT&T Wireless Nelson said.

Related stories:

  • Industry to FCC: Give Us Spectrum
  • AT&T Wireless Bulks Up GSM Network
  • Lucent, Verizon Wireless Team on Data Service
  • New Products at CTIA Wireless
  • Commentary: A More Manageable Wireless Environment