Wireless products for enterprise on tap at show

A variety of vendors last month unveiled an array of products aimed at making wireless data services over the Internet a more viable option for corporate users.

Attendees at the Wireless I.T. 2000 show in Santa Clara, Calif., hosted by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, will see new handheld clients, including a prototype of Microsoft Corp.’s “Stinger” smart cell phone, high-speed interface cards and server software that translates Web content into formats that can be displayed on small-screen devices. In addition, some carriers may announce new wireless data services aimed at corporate users.

Cahners In-Stat Group predicts that more than 1.5 billion cellular phone handsets, PDAs and Internet appliances will be equipped with wireless capabilities by the end of 2004. Users will want to access mobile commerce applications, entertainment, real-time financial information and travel and direction services, Cahners says.

Still, the hyperbole about wireless data runs aground on some tough issues: low wireless transmission speeds, security concerns and carrier networks that are still largely oriented toward voice traffic, not data.

One of the other issues facing customers and service providers is providing different types of handhelds – which use different kinds of wireless networks – access to Web-based applications. Several companies will unveil products aimed at addressing this issue.

For example, NewsTakes Inc. of Burlingame, Calif., will unveil software designed to automatically convert information in text, graphics, images and audio and video files into formats that can be used by almost any kind of device, including cell phones using Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and NTT DoCoMo Inc.’s iMode protocol.

The patent-pending software, originally developed by Kent Ridge Pvt. Ltd. Digital Labs in Singapore, uses artificial intelligence technologies to tailor the display to fit the capabilities of the device and of the wireless network used by the device. Dow Jones and the Associated Press recently announced deals with NewsTakes to use the software.

According to Steve Rand, NewsTakes’ senior vice-president of business development, the software will let carriers or corporate users make use of existing content without requiring costly, time-consuming changes to it.

Lutris Technologies Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., will unveil a wireless version of its open-source Java application server, Lutris Enhydra. This server software is designed to host Java applications, interconnect with back-end servers and feed results to an array of handheld devices over wireless networks. The software will be released in December.

Pricing isn’t final, but one version will cost about US$1,000, which includes Lutris’s documentation of the open source software and an application to show how wireless applications are written. A higher-priced version will include training and technical support. The basic software, without documentation, can be downloaded free at www.enhydra.org.

Also at the show:

Wireless Knowledge LLC of San Diego demonstrated a new version of its WorkStyle Server software, which will let mobile users access corporate Lotus Development Corp.’s Domino groupware servers. Handheld users will have full access to the Domino and Lotus Notes e-mail, scheduling and contact information. The current product supports Microsoft Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000 servers. The product will ship near year-end, with no change in the current pricing of US$10 per month per user.

IBM Corp. unveiled a new version of its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, which translates Web information into standard formats such as WAP for wireless devices. The upgrade will add support for several new presentation protocols, such as iMode, and offer expanded voice-recognition support.

Sierra Wireless Inc. of Vancouver showed off the AirCard 400, a PCMCIA Type-II wireless interface card that will link handhelds to Metricom Inc.’s Ricochet 128Kbps wireless net. Metricom is expanding the high-speed network across the U.S.

Finally, attendees saw a demonstration of prototype phones based on Microsoft’s Stinger software specification. The phones, built by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and other companies, use a version of Windows CE and combine features of PDAs with a cellular handset design.