Cellphone industry hopes for 2001: a data odyssey

While application work in the handheld space continues apace, let's not forget about the other half of the mobile and wireless equation - the cellphone.

While application work in the handheld space continues apace, let’s not forget about the other half of the mobile and wireless equation — the cellphone.

Manufacturers like Ericsson, Nokia and Alcatel are fighting to maintain market share in this new high-speed environment, and to do that they need to make high-speed data services an essential component for IT managers and businesses.

Ericsson is first off the mark in New Zealand with its WAP “cluster” in Wellington.

“The mobile internet is a huge growth area — we have to be involved but we can’t do it all ourselves,” says Arron Judson, manager of Ericsson’s wireless internet unit. He has been working with the cluster to help develop WAP services and despite WAP’s bad name of late, he says its time has yet to come.

“It’s still very early days yet. WAP 1.2 is out now and it supports things like animated gifs, better security and greyscale, so we can be a bit more interesting on the handsets.” Judson believes everything the drivers needed to make mobile data work well are in place, it’s just a matter of bringing them together.

“We have high-speed networks in place, Bluetooth, smarter cellphones — this year really is the year mobile data comes of age.”

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless standard developed by Ericsson but opened up to all industry players.

Leapfrogging over the infrared port or cable connector, Bluetooth would allow a handheld device to communicate with a cellphone without the user having to have both devices in line of sight. Users could leave their phone in a briefcase and simply use the handheld to communicate online.

Judson has also been working with Luigi Cappel, formerly managing director of Mission Control and now wireless computing director at Rocom Wireless, to launch an industry body — the Wireless Data Forum.

“The WDF was created to promote awareness and to help educate business users as to the benefits of these kinds of devices,” says Cappel. He believes it will be three to four years before the applications catch up with the bandwidth and start to create a problem for the networks — in that time New Zealand companies are well placed to take advantage of high-speed data connectivity. Cappel believes business use will be the big driving factor in the years ahead.

“There’s talk of using your devices for videoconferencing or downloading movie trailers, that kind of thing. But the price point would have to be so low for a movie trailer, say only a dollar or two, that it wouldn’t be worth doing in the first place.” He believes the killer app across the cellular network will be email.

“It’s become ubiquitous. Gone are the days where you signed on for your first email account, but had nobody to contact. Now I get phone calls from people saying ‘I sent you an email half an hour ago and you haven’t replied yet — what’s going on?’ You have to have email to stay in contact, it’s that simple.”

For travellers, that’s meant a nightmare tangle of hotel room connections and POP settings. With a mobile wireless setup, such as a cellphone and a PDA, users should be able to connect to email cleanly and simply from anywhere in the world. And importantly, says Cappel, they won’t have to put up with 9.6kbit/s dial-up rates — they can do it at high speed.

“The problem with handhelds has always been they have come out of the stationery budget or discretionary spending allowance — they haven’t been bought through the IT department, who often know nothing about the devices, how to manage them or even who has them.”

That means users of handheld devices have been on the outside of the network looking in. Now, however, companies are realising the benefits from these devices, but they have a mixed user environment right from the start.

“Some have bought Palms, some have bought iPaqs, some have Psions. You have to be able to support and integrate all these different platforms.” Different users have different needs and with devices like the Handspring range of products coming to New Zealand, even users with the same device can add different pieces of hardware to them.

“You might issue sales people with Palms loaded with ordering information and the like, but the area managers might be given Compaq iPaq’s with the colour screen so they can show off the latest TV commercials.”

Motorola created a stir last year when it announced it was looking at Auckland and Christchurch for its next application development centre, but finally settled on Perth. However, all is not lost, says spokesman Russell Grimmer. Despite the downturn in stock levels in IT and telecomms, Motorola generally builds a new development centre every six to eight months and while it’s a little off schedule, we may see one in New Zealand yet.

“The Perth centre will be working on developments for the 3G environment,” says Grimmer. 3G (third generation cellular connectivity) will allow speeds of around 2Mbit/s and should herald a new age of mobile applications. 3G services and networks are expected to be launched in the next five years.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Ericsson is conducting an application development competition. Judson believes many developers are yet to take advantage of the move to mobile internet and are struggling to fight in the already saturated wired internet space.

“We’re trying to offer tools and support for local developers and I’d encourage app developers to look to the mobile wireless for a huge business potential.” Judson says the early products launched in any space generally earn mindshare ahead of the late arrivals and New Zealand developers are well placed to take advantage of that.

“We’ve always been innovative and quick to take up new challenges. The web has been a huge hit in New Zealand and I think mobile internet will be just as large.”

Details on the competition can be found on the mobile internet pages at www.ericsson.co.nz.

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