Mobility comes to masses in Auckland, Geneva

Computing is increasingly becoming a movable feast - of networks, applications and access devices - as demonstrated at events as far apart as Auckland and Geneva last week.

Computing is increasingly becoming a movable feast – of networks, applications and access devices – as demonstrated at events as far apart as Auckland and Geneva last week.

While attendees at the Wireless Data Forum conference (rechristened the Wireless Forum at the end of the show) in Auckland experienced the wonders of wireless hot spots, Microsoft’s Bill Gates was telling an International Telecommunication Union conference crowd in Switzerland that the company will invest heavily in mobility software platforms.

Gates pointed to an agreement with Vodafone to help create tools for programmers to develop applications for both PCs and mobile devices. The goal is for developers to use existing web services technologies, like XML, to link the mobile and computing worlds.

Wireless Forum president Scott Wattie says 750 people attended the Auckland event and, rather than show signs of being jaded from past hype-ridden vendor presentations, they were keen to hear what equipment makers are promising for the future.

“There seems to be a new appetite for finding out where New Zealand fits into the mobile world.”

Attendee Malcolm Fraser, whose job takes him between New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, can only function because of mobile computing technology. He carries with him an office in a slender briefcase, containing an ultra-portable notebook computer and accessories.

“I roam locally and across the Asia-Pacific region,” says Fraser, who sets up training courses in a joint venture with Southern Cross University of northern New South Wales, and is a big users of Wi-Fi hot spots.

When he steps off a plane in Singapore, a wireless network gives him access to email; the fact that the same isn’t possible at Auckland International Airport is a serious deficiency, he says.

However, Fraser says there are numerous locations in Auckland where he can log on, including Mecca, Totem, Deschlers and Starbucks.

“I can browse my email with my Microsoft Smartphone and get out the notebook to reply to the ones that need it,” Fraser says.

Wattie says the proliferation of Wi-Fi networks is one of the biggest changes on the wireless scene of the past 12 months, with businesses finally taking to them. That acceptance is spreading to other mobile technologies as well, he says.

“It’s really hitting the mainstream; it’s not only early adopters that are doing these things.”

In the early adopter camp is Christchurch biscuit maker Cookie Time, whose IT manager, Chris White, presented a case study on adoption of a mobile sales data collection system. Based on Kyocera phones running the Palm OS that connect to Telecom’s CDMA network, the system has eliminated a 225,000-invoice paper mountain. With each invoice costing 16 cents, that represents a big saving for the company’s distributors, White says.

There were some hiccups along the way – with software (the system uses ITLink’s SalesLink), connectivity and handset problems – but White says the $150,000 project is getting a rapid payback.

Wattie says while the event intentionally focused on the here and now, a futuristic technology that he sees great potential for is handsets that roam between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Gates, meanwhile, told his ITU conference audience that Microsoft plans to unveil a road map for new mobile web services specifications later this month at its developers conference. They’ll describe, for example, how a GSM network's authentication system exchanges data with a PC application using web services security protocols.

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More about BillGenevaInternational Telecommunication UnionITUKyoceraMeccaMicrosoftPalmScott CorporationSouthern Cross UniversityStarbucksSwitzerlandVodafone

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