Rogers and Microsoft tag-team the enterprise

Microsoft Canada Co. and Rogers AT&T Wireless recently teamed up to bring new mobile services to business users, although one industry analysts says the duo faces an uphill battle for respect.

Microsoft and Rogers in February agreed to an alliance whereby the software provider’s Pocket PC Phone Edition and Smartphone 2002 operating systems will be available to customers on the carrier’s Global system for Mobile Communications (GSM) network.

The Pocket PC Phone Edition platform, coupled with other products, will allow customers to synchronize their calendar, e-mail, contacts and notes on Rogers wireless devices. In addition, users can send, receive and view files created in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Corporate users must select Siemens AG’s SX56 Pocket PC at a cost of $900 to access the new service, since the device already comes pre-loaded with Microsoft’s operating system. Customers pay a monthly fee for the service, explained David Neale, vice-president, new product development at Rogers AT&T Wireless in Toronto. On the voice side, he said pricing would not change.

Targeted at business users, the partnership may seem to be a unique strategy, but according to Neale the rationale was simple.

“[With] so many people familiar with Microsoft’s applications and being used to the desktop icons…you can imagine it just makes it more natural to see exactly the same icons on the wireless desktop,” Neale said.

Rogers is following in the footsteps of AT&T Corp.; the U.S. telco last summer announced a similar agreement with Microsoft.

As one industry analyst said, Rogers’s decision to partner with Microsoft is primarily based upon the software maker’s established reputation.

Rogers plans to leverage Microsoft’s presence in the enterprise “to sell wireless devices, and that’s what some of the carriers are hoping for,” said Tole Hart, senior analyst, mobile communications at Gartner Inc. in New York. He added that while the Microsoft operating system is “fairly decent” overall, in terms market penetration, Microsoft’s in the minority.

A challenge for customers is the lack of compatibility between different e-mail solutions, namely Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM’s) and Palm Inc.’s operating systems. Further, while an application may be written for interoperability, Tole added that for Exchange users, access to IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes is out of the question.

And if past user experience is any indication, Rogers has some work ahead to rectify problems with its converged devices.

While still waiting to receive the Siemens SX56 for beta testing, Roberta Fox has tested Handspring Inc.’s Treo 180 and the Palm QCP6035. Both devices run on Rogers’s network, but on the whole neither computer delivered service as promised.

“As an enterprise customer, if the box says [it’s going to do certain functions] then that’s what it should do,” said Fox, president and senior partner at Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont. “The Treo box said mobile phone, wireless e-mail, SMS, Web browsing and desktop synch.”

But the Treo failed to impress. Although the voice function “worked great” on both the Handspring and Palm devices, she said there were problems with the Web browsing capabilities.

If the carrier truly wants to capture enterprise customers, it will need step up the quality, Fox said, describing another poor experience with a device running on Rogers’s network.

She tried a Kyocera Wireless Corp. smart phone, but in the space of 14 months, “it was in the shop twice for seven or eight weeks,” Fox said, adding that although the carrier furnished her with a replacement handset, she questions the quality of other Rogers offerings.