Wireless switching paves new application path

Enterprise application vendors are catching the pervasive-computing bug. Following the porting of enterprise-grade applications to PDAs, advances in network switching technology are paving the way for high-end cellular handsets called smart phones.

As handset manufacturers such as Nokia Corp. develop technology that switches seamlessly between 802.11x and public wireless networks, they blaze the trail for application vendors to explore new usage scenarios for supply-chain management, logistics, field service, and CRM applications. A bridge between 802.11x (or other WiFi networks) and public networks such as GPRS holds the promise that business processes will be able to embrace a model of ubiquitous and permanent connectivity.

Oracle Corp. is one of the companies exploring early usage scenarios for both industrial and corporate collaboration for such cellular devices. For example, warehouse users, now a large proportion of 802.11 users, could extend their supply chain and customer service applications beyond the approximate 200-meter range of 802.11 by using a smart phone, according to Jacob Christfort, vice president of development at Oracle’s mobile products and services division in Redwood Shores, Calif.

“If a driver has left and a customer calls, they can trickle the request to a cellular network over the device,” Christfort said. “Instead of warehouse workers pulling inventory from the warehouse for delivery using one device and drivers out of range using a cellular phone, each could use the integrated device, and the enterprise would only have to maintain a single infrastructure to support that.”

Oracle predicts that devices that can switch from 802.11 to public networks will allow enterprise users to have just one smart phone instead of needing to carry both a cell phone for voice and a PDA for email, calendaring, and other collaborative applications.

For its part, PeopleSoft envisions the numerous benefits of smart phone connectivity felt by highly mobile users who need access to CRM applications. “The true road warrior will be able to move back and forth between hotspots in hotels and airport and caf