DemoMobiles theme this year was all about “unwiring the planet,” a kowtow to all things wireless, ranging from cell phone technology to complete replacements of 3G networks.
The shows venue, the Hilton Torrey Pines near San Diego, was a bizarre place to host such an event since the only wireless provider with reasonable coverage in the area is Sprint, showing just how fragile even mature technology actually is. Users on Verizon and ATT networks, meanwhile, struggled with patchy coverage and were often reduced to canned demos on-and-off stage.
Then again, Demo is the proving ground of things to come. And cell phone technology is rather boring, even with Sprint showing off the Treo 300 with 3G coverage. The more interesting announcements were all about applications and 802.11-style networking.
Reef Edge had by far the most pertinent announcement. The wireless security company, best known for its ReefEdge Connect Server geared toward enterprise customers, released Dolphin—a software-only solution aimed at the small office/small business space. CEO Ajel Gopal said that medium-size businesses main wireless concern is the security of the network.
At its core, Dolphin provides much of the functionality of the higher-priced Connect Servers for a far lower cost. In fact, its free for non-commercial use. This means that individuals can set up highly secure networks that include authentication, bandwidth management, subnet roaming, and simple policy-based management for no cost. (Licenses for 50-users will start at $2500).
The downside is that Dolphin users will have to use a spare x86 system to set up the Linux-based application. Dolphin also does not provide high availability, fault tolerance, and enterprise-class performance, making it a good fit for small and smaller-size mid-market businesses. Dolphin can be downloaded here.
Newbury Networks, meanwhile, says its LocaleServer is the first location-enabled network provisioning and monitoring tool. Simplistically speaking, LocaleServer analyzes and models 802.11 signals and maps them on a pre-defined grid. This allows IT administrators to provision the network or better yet, push down location-sensitive content to network users. The location-based data can be sent directly to users on the network through another Newbury product—the Digital Concierge-Docent.
Its tough to see a market for location-based 802.11 push technology. After all, 802.11 networks are generally limited to a 300-foot diameter range, putting almost everyone in more or less the same location anyway. However, Newbury says that because its signal tracking is so effective, new applications will emerge. Those include educational institutions, office floor and shopping mall directional finders, and museums, which have used static AM radio signals or cassette-tape technology to inform people about whats happening in specific exhibits.
LocalServer starts at $20,000 and will be available in October. Digtal Concierge-Docent, available in November, will cost $5000. Newbury also has additional products in the space coming in November.
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Microsoft Broadband (www.microsoft.com/broadband), meanwhile, is jumping into the very crowded 802.11 networking fray. The giant company is basically taking on D-Link, SMC and Netgear with the release of its 802.11b access points and network cards. The cases are sleek titanium. Theyre based on standard Intercil technology so that there will be no interoperability issues. Theyre low-cost and available everywhere. The launch is akin to Dell getting into the printer business.
Many might ask what Microsoft can possibly bring to the table here that is not available in other products. From a hardware level, absolutely nothing. From a software level, Microsoft says there is plenty of room for improvement. First of all, Microsoft rightly claims that few, if any, networking companies turn on 802.11 WEP encryption by default. Second, even though 802.11 has been around for years and popular for at least two, its still too difficult to use—especially for the home and small business user.
Therefore, the company made the software setup for access points as painless as possible. Using the Windows wizards, it takes four steps to set up a 128-bit secured network. Will it fly? For small businesses, its a clear winner. For anything larger, Microsofts shielding of many access point functions will steer administrators to other 802.11 products. For example, its not clear how users can set up remote Web administrative access, set up roaming capabilities, or otherwise tweak the settings like turning on Diversity. But at under $200 per kit, the price is right for five users or under.
On the other end of the spectrum (literally), Flarion touted the most interesting product. The company basically said that it could potentially render 3G networks dead. Thats unfortunate since 3G network providers have already spent billions on licensing and infrastructure build-outs with only the tiniest return on investment.
Flarion (www.flarion.com) is basically a chip-set developer that spun out of ATT and Lucent. The company announced at Demo that it entered into a partnership with manufacturing firm Flextronics to develop the RadioRouter, a chipset and wireless modems. The company says that it can provide broadband performance to cellular carriers without them having to change their infrastructures. This is equivalent to running DSL over the analog phone network. Carriers will have to plant the RadioRouter at each base station. Then users will install the wireless modems. Instantly, theyll get broadband performance.
Likely candidates for this would be NexTel, which has not announced a 3G network. Others might be ATT and Verizon, carriers with unclear 3G plans. The downside is that the telecommunications industry is spent. On the flip side, there would be a tremendous market for this service.
Enterprises that feel theyre being ripped off by cellular carriers have some tools to fight back with Traq-wireless, an Austin, Texas, company that scans individual phone patterns and produces plan recommendations.
Traq (www.traq.com) is basically a data analysis service that scans individual cell phone usage, down to the minutes and locations called. It then compares the usage against thousands of different rate plans provided by the carriers. The result is a clear cost analysis of the rate plan. Traq CEO Jams Offerdahl said that his service could save companies 35 percent of the costs.
This is basic no-nonsense technology that should appeal to any organization dealing with cell phone billing issues.
The most interesting piece of technology at the Demo show had little to do with wireless or even networking. Pen & Internet announced it is unveiling the third generation of handwriting recognition. Basically it blows the socks off of Microsofts Tablet PC recognizer, even though Microsofts technology isnt half bad. It shouldnt be since developers of Pen & Internets (www.penandinternet.com) ANR (Advanced Notes Recognition) are the same ones who originally created the Microsoft technology, as well as the recognizer in the Apple Newton.
Whats different is that the technology can no longer be called handwriting recognition. Instead, the Pen & Internet technology recognizes shapes, images, letters, text and characters. The result is an electronic conversion of what note taking should look like: handwriting becomes text. Shapes become shapes that can be manipulated. Doodles become images and so on.
The first implementation of Pen & Internets technology is riteMail (www.ritemail.com)—a mail application in which those doodles and notes can be sent.
Lastly, DemoMobile became the launchpad for mobile CRM implementations from SalesLogix and Upshot. Saleslogix, in combination with Vaultus, offered up a highly sophisticated PocketPC-based implementation of the Saleslogix system. Its expensive, but never before has their been such a rich CRM implementation on a handheld device.
Upshot, meanwhile, launched an alerting system that pings via SMS or e-mails users when pre-defined rules are triggered. For example, it can SMS the CFO if a major deal falls through right before end of a fiscal quarter. The capability is included with Upshot XE.
Meanwhile, application developers looking for an environment to port mobile applications should check out ThinkingBytes—the company headed up by John Landry of Lotus fame. Although early in its offerings, ThinkingBytes represents how applications will be developed in the future.