Wireless to go beyond just e-mail

There has been incessant talk recently about the eventual role wireless technology will play in the data communications market. As it stands now, transmission speeds are quite slow – limiting the types of work that can be done.

But none of this has stopped the major players from jumping into the fray to get market position in anticipation of the next generation of wireless technology which will push speed limits to impressive and useful levels.

Bell Mobility and Compaq Canada Corp. have formed an alliance to develop and deliver wireless solutions marrying Compaq’s multi-featured iPAQ PDA with the Bell Mobility wireless package. The data is transmitted via Sierra Wireless Inc.’s type 2 CDMA PCMCIA AirCard modem.

Using Bell Mobility’s CDMA network, iPAQ users will be able to wirelessly access such features as e-mail and messaging and, as higher speed networks are rolled out, everything from ERP applications to CRM and sales force automation programs.

Though analysts predict an increase in the use of wireless communications for data transmissions, the market is in its early stages and the users are a relatively small group, especially if they are transmitting something other than e-mail.

“Right now we are looking at the technologically elite, those business people who really get a lot of use out of these things (PDAs),” said Jeremy Depow, senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont.

He said it is not always convenient to lug around a laptop everywhere you go, especially when you are travelling a lot, and that this type of power user might find this solution useful.

Pam Norton, product manager for Internet products and services at Compaq Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont., said the target area is the enterprise market where mobile users need to access business applications.

Though e-mail is at the top of the user list, the development focus will be on more critical ERP/CRM solutions where database assess is necessary, she said.

“Compaq’s positioning of wireless solutions is that we do want to be able to deliver end-to-end business solutions for our customers,” she said.

“So we would work with them in terms of delivering an SAP solution or a JD Edwards solution. Whatever application they need for the device.”

speeds are still slow

With transmission speeds sitting at around 14Kbps, accessing a corporate database to get detailed sales data is not really an option. This is also where vendors and analysts disagree on the true level of functionality as it is available today.

“You can really only do short e-mail type messages,” said Joe Greene, vice-president Internet solutions with IDC Canada in Toronto.

He said CRM and ERP solutions will be phased in when the higher speed 2.5G level becomes available.

“You can deliver a workable, practical solution now,” Norton responded. “You wouldn’t put a thick client on the device. If it was Seibel, you would deliver a pocket version of Seibel…customized for the pocket PC and the customer…[using] compression software and a customized application,” she explained.

Regardless, both agreed speeds will increase dramatically once Bell and other wireless communication vendors have the next generation of wireless technology available. Dubbed 2.5G (or 1XRT), the next level will allow users to transmit at speeds of around 40 to 60Kbps.

According to Chris Shannon, group manager for business solutions at Bell Mobility in Toronto, the plan is to have 2.5G available later this year.

The Holy Grail of the wireless world is 3G (with speeds in the 300 plus kilobits per second range) is still years away, according to all those spoken to.

Cost is a slight hindrance, according to Depow. The iPAQ (www.compaq.ca) with the Sierra card is around $1,500. But once 2.5G is widely available the market should grow rather rapidly, he added.

“[It is] a niche (market) but not small enough to say that it is not significant,” he explained.

Bell Mobility (www.bell.ca) has two data-only user packages – $25 for 250 minutes per month and $50 for 1000 minutes. Minutes can not be carried over to the next month. Long distance charges are extra, but users can dial locally across Canada and the U.S.