Vendors, operators aim for simplicity

Services and software to be introduced Monday at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment trade show in San Francisco are aimed at giving enterprises greater control over their mobile systems and extending mobile data capabilities to more employees.

As the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) show gets started, Sprint Corp., Intellisync Corp. and Seven Networks Inc. all are set to unveil offerings that help large organizations get their key applications out to employees on the road.

Enterprise deployments of mobile devices and applications are weighed down with complexity, partly because mobile operators provide only some elements of the system, according to Bob Egan, president of Mobile Competency, a consulting company in North Providence, Rhode Island. Getting business applications running on mobile devices is a hard job that most IT departments don't want, he said.

Sprint, one of the largest U.S. mobile operators, plans to solve that problem by making enterprise mobile rollouts like PC deployments. With its Sprint Managed Mobility Services, the carrier will provide devices to enterprises, configure them with applications and security features customized for particular types of employees, bill the company as a whole instead of individual employees, and replace the devices every 18 months, according to Kenny Wyatt, assistant vice president for customer solutions and marketing at Sprint. For the development work of integrating a company's applications into the mobile data system and creating client interfaces for handheld devices, Sprint can turn to its Business Solutions Partners, Wyatt added.

Currently, most corporations have employees buy and configure their own mobile devices, according to Sprint. The managed service puts them under corporate control. For example, the enterprise can dictate the parameters for creating passwords and for when they are required, Wyatt said. At the same time, IT staff is shielded from the complexity of the system. For example, Sprint can configure handsets over the air, he said. For security reasons, if a device is lost or stolen, Sprint can lock up the device or wipe it clean of data, over the air, at the company's request.

The managed service will come at an extra charge on top of monthly service plans: on a typical monthly charge of US$60 to $80, it probably will cost less than 10 percent for conventional cell phones and 10 percent to 20 percent for converged voice-data devices, Wyatt said.

Intellisync on Monday will introduce its Mobility Suite 6, an upgraded version of its software package for managing mobile devices and synchronizing the data on them. The San Jose, California, company aims to provide a single suite of software that supports multiple types of mobile devices on multiple networks, letting enterprises choose the right device for each region and purpose without having to run different software systems, said David Shim, vice president of product marketing.

When each application or messaging system needs its own software and hardware infrastructure, that makes an enterprise's job more complex, according to Mobile Competency's Egan. For example, Research In Motion Ltd.'s popular Blackberry devices and servers solve some interoperability problems but not all, he said.

"If you bring RIM in, the good news is it's a network server that can talk to the different networks, so you're not riveted into (Global System for Mobile communications) vs. (Code Division Multiple Access), but it's very device-centric," meaning that the RIM server may not work with other devices, Egan said. Software like Intellisync's that is agnostic to both networks and devices can help to simplify things, he said.

Among other enhancements, the new version of Mobility Suite adds support for IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and SyncML 1.2 clients. It also adds French, Italian, German and Spanish versions as well as support for Unicode so versions can be written for Asian languages with double-byte characters, Shim said. The first of these will be Japanese, available later in Version 6. Also new in this version is the XML (Extensible Markup Language) Connector to extract contact and calendar information from collaboration, customer relationship management and other applications. The new version can cut development time for a new deployment down from months to weeks, according to Intellisync. The suite will be available starting Oct. 29, priced per user. A twenty-five user license with components for wireless push e-mail and mobile systems management is priced at $215 per user, he said.

Seven Networks will team up with Sun Microsystems Inc. to bring its mobile e-mail client to the J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition) platform in order to reach less expensive mobile devices. Extending the client, which is already available on the PalmOS, Pocket PC, Symbian and Brew platforms, will help mobile operators offer it on new and existing handsets priced under $150, according to Trevor Fiatal, Seven's co-founder and chief security officer.

Mobile operators that already use Seven's e-mail systems under their own brand names, such as Sprint and Cingular Wireless LLC, have been clamoring for a way to bring mobile e-mail to lower-end devices, Fiatal said.

As enterprises try to get greater capabilities out to an increasing number of mobile employees, operators are bound to play a greater role because the integration task just becomes bigger, according to Egan.

"Nobody has found the mythical path to reducing the complexity," Egan said.

CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment runs Sunday through Wednesday.

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