Wireless adoption in the real world

Farpoint Group |  Mobile & Wireless

Quick - what's the most popular wireless application in the enterprise today? It should come as no surprise that the answer is voice! Someone once joked that the killer app for wireless data would be voice, and I suppose once voice over IP gets established on wireless LANs and eventually in wide-area wireless networks, that will undoubtedly prove correct. But what about real wireless data - what are enterprises doing today?

Because most-wide-area wireless services have traditionally provided less than modem-like throughput, the most popular applications have been those that need little throughput and have a high tolerance for latency (the amount of time it takes to get information from one end of a network connection to the other). Latency is important because many wide-area wireless systems employ store-and-forward techniques in order to manage traffic against available infrastructure capacity. So, paging, packet radio, and other low-speed services ended up supporting messaging, very limited e-mail (no HTML or attachments in most cases), and vertical apps like field sales and service-fleet functions.

Today's 2.5G and 3G networks offer higher throughput, with increasingly-available coverage, albeit at higher prices than the older services. The core problem here is that GPRS and 1XRTT are frequently priced by the byte - which makes absolutely no sense to me. After all, how can we really control the amount of data we send, especially in a Web-services-based model? All-you-can-eat plans exist, but they are quite pricy. A notable exception is T-Mobile's $30/month unlimited GPRS plan using the popular Sidekick Color model - which is worth considering if they have coverage in places you're going to be. Such an approach could cover a huge range of applications at a very reasonable price. You might notice, however, that the Sidekick is largely a consumer-class device. It's worth noting here that the cellular carriers have a profound consumer bias in their marketing and product/service offerings. The reason for this is simple - that's where the demand is today. What I think we'll find over time, however, is that the differences between "consumer" and "business" wireless products and services blur considerably, with only marketing messages and pricing (and to some degree service and support) serving as differentiators.

What else is the enterprise doing with wireless? Consider the following examples:

  • Synchronization - Today's "sometimes connected" mobile computing/communicating paradigm is based in the reality that wireless communications just aren't available everywhere we need them.
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