Corporate buying power will promote standards that will change how mobile data works.
Until recently, wireless data services from U.S. carriers offered poky performance at breathtaking cost. But competition and upgraded cellular networks mean new services providing raw wireless access speeds at up to double the performance of dial-up.

But carriers still have a long way to go to provide the kind of services and support that IT needs. To date they have done little more than focus on consumers, marketing offerings like ring tone downloads and digital photography, while ignoring IT's requirements for services that make it easier to manage a wide range of mobile devices. "The challenge is that most of the carriers have been largely set up to deal with consumers," says IDC's Waryas. However, some carriers claim that is changing, if slowly. "Today, the behavior is really consumer-oriented," admits Bruce Friedman, group director of mobile computing services at Sprint Corp. "[But] as you see more companies become corporate sponsors of these devices, that's going to drive different behavior" on the part of carriers.

Carriers are also coming to understand—if slowly—that they need to offer more services to help manage the mobile computing flood and reduce IT's costs of delivering useful applications to increasingly powerful devices. That includes providing software to help IT departments avoid technologically unnatural acts with mobile devices. "Taking your Siebel application and pushing it down to a two-inch screen is an abysmal failure," warns Sprint's Friedman. To help standardize communications between the enterprise and its mobile users, Sprint recently rolled out a bundle of software and services that's designed to provide easier access to business applications using secure Web services.

"What's happening is CIOs want standardization for their communications services, whether it's wireless or wireline, just like they have for computing systems," says Kneko Burney, chief market strategist for customer and service-provider markets at researcher In-Stat/MDR. "When you have the major providers coming into the market, particularly now, it means that some standards are going to appear."

But don't expect changes overnight. As users gobble up camera phones and connected PDAs, the big money for the carriers will still be in the consumer market for the foreseeable future. That means the carriers will have to provide the kinds of services that corporations want to put serious money into. "There's still going to be some work ahead for providers to really add some tangible value to business customers," says In-Stat's Burney.

This article was originally published on 10-01-2003
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