Infinite possibilities in mobility's brave new world

Infinite possibilities in mobility's brave new world

Mobile technology continues to move forward, despite occasional hiccups such as the problems surrounding Telecom’s initial rollout of its XT network. While there are still teething issues to be addressed, there is no question that high bandwidth mobile data services are here to stay.

With network bandwidth approaching that of terrestrial DSL, and a wide range of new platforms entering and about to enter the market, the mobile industry is now in the throes of rapid change. In computing systems, we can see laptops replacing desktops in business at a faster pace, and laptops morphing into smaller devices such as netbooks — which are meeting increasingly powerful mobile phones from the other side, to create a new range of hybrid devices in tablet computing and smartphone designs based on Apple’s iPad. Applications are being developed to take advantage of mobile access to websites, to location information and to communications services.

For business, mobile systems bring a wide range of new possibilities, along with a few liabilities — chief of which is security. New applications are being discovered on an ongoing basis and there are cost savings and productivity benefits to be gained. Resellers need to take note. But it is important to help customers to focus on real business issues. Mobility is becoming increasingly central in a range of cloud and Web 2.0 technologies, and it will be important to carefully consider the impact on businesses.

Resellers entering the mobile sector will find plenty of opportunities, but it will be increasingly important to study the options, and consult with customers to determine what will bring the best value to their business. This year may well turn out to be a watershed year for mobility.

Mobile solutions are a key part of Telecom division Gen-i’s business. “Mobile is an underlying platform to enable us to help our customers achieve better business outcomes,” says mobile marketing manger Aaron McDonald. “We don’t view it as an isolated technology, but look at it as part of a solution. Mobile has been a key focus in our technology strategy, with a lot of the technology choices these days having a mobile element. This includes CRM (customer relationship management), unified communications, field services and ERP (enterprise resource planning).

Gen-i has seen a steady growth in mobile as people seek to leverage existing solutions, add capability and improve interactions with customers. In general, customers are looking to get more out of mobile technologies. “One of the key issues is cost,” says McDonald. “Customers want to see how they can leverage mobile to take cost out of business through things like reducing business space, tracking assets better, aiding transport operations, and being more efficient in use of fuel and other resources. We are also seeing customers starting to leverage mobile communications to improve customer interactions.”

It has recently launched a cloud-based unified communications platform that takes all of the traditional features of unified communications and desk phone voice services, and makes them available from the cloud and accessible to mobile platforms. This includes things like voice mail, group calling and presence.

“There are new synergies, with cost reduction,” says McDonald. “Customers can consolidate their existing environment, and refresh old technology without capital expenditure. Making these features available to mobile users provides substantial user productivity benefits.”

Sparked by the interest in the upcoming local release of the Apple iPad, Gen-i is also watching new mobile platforms entering the picture. Part of this is a new range of platforms based on the Android operating system from tablet PC vendors. “We are seeing a lot of interest in the new devices around field service automation and professional mobile work environments, where people don’t need a full desktop but do need to interact with online services. The main focus of Gen-i is around providing solutions in core services to let businesses take advantage of mobile trends.”

Motorola, as a major cellphone handset provider, views these devices as central to emerging ideas about mobility. “Efficient and productive mobile workers are the lifeblood of an organisation,” says managing director of ANZ enterprise mobility, Vince Chiappazzo. “Empowering these people with the right features and functionality to eliminate roadblocks in the field is critical. The latest mobility devices for the enterprise combine the best features of communications and task functionality without compromising performance or design - allowing mobile workforces, including managers, to remain hands-on in the field or in the office while juggling management responsibilities.”

Customisable user interfaces help to ensure one-touch access to business information and applications, which helps to maintain high levels of productivity outside the office walls.

HP has a broad presence in the mobile space. “Our main focus is in the notebook area,” says market development manager Simon Molloy. “With the acquisition of Palm, we plan to get involved in the smartphone sector soon. We’re seeing a lot of interest and concern from customers over cloud computing features and how mobility fits into that recently. Locally, this puts pressure on connectivity, and the cost of 3G connectivity in New Zealand. That cost needs to come down before consumers will commit to it, and consumers will lead business.”

Recent industry moves, including the advent of the netbook and the iPad, are driving a form factor explosion that is creating more choices than ever before. “We’re also seeing new applications around cloud computing and social networking,” says Molloy. “People today are becoming much more collaborative in the business environment, and they are using notebooks and smartphones to keep in touch. Location-based services represent a potential growth area, with GPS embedded in 3G provided not only on smartphones, but also on notebooks.”

For HP the mobile market in New Zealand is performing well, with numbers getting back to pre-2009 levels. “In the last three to four months there has been a lot of activity with medium to large customers,” says Molloy. “It is a bit quieter in medium-sized business area and the consumer market is still slow. Many businesses had put off a technology refresh, and are now going through a purchase cycle. In the consumer space, notebooks overtook desktops years ago. For business, we are seeing the number of notebooks overtaking the number of desktop systems now.”

“There are lots of decisions to be made around notebooks and mobility in business,” says Molloy. “New Zealand businesses tend to wander into mobility without considering security. This should be a key concern, as you can have a lot of info on a company notebook, and much of it may be confidential. It is important to ensure security with authentication, encryption, and having a solid security strategy in the organisation. This is not expensive to do, but it does take time to develop and implement a strategy throughout the company.”

Resellers need to understand the offerings available. “There’s a huge choice in mobility for customers,” says Molloy. “Customers often find it bewildering, and can easily make the wrong choice. Resellers need to understand products and how they are positioned, as well as paying attention to what customer need and how they can best employ a solution. It is not just selling about selling a notebook; it is about selling a platform for innovation and business value.”

Lindsay Tobin, product business manager at Lenovo, has watched the development of the netbook, in particular. “Netbooks have experienced tremendous growth and are now stabilising in terms of market share,” he says. “They have been extremely popular devices for use in the home and as a companion device for business people when they are travelling on business or for personal reasons.”

The imminent release of Apple’s iPad here is also likely to have an effect. “The iPad is expected to have a positive influence locally with increased interest in companion devices,” says Tobin. “This will have positive effects for netbooks, lightweight notebooks, tablets and competing slate products. Businesspeople are increasingly looking to buy such a device as a companion both for leisure and for limited corporate connectivity. It will create opportunities for resellers who can help organisations integrate such devices into local infrastructure, accessing the corporate network, cloud storage and applications.”

Qualcomm develops and sells the chipsets that run the mobile 3G networks. This puts the company in a good position to observe movement in the mobile market, according to ANZ business manager Robert Hart.

“The mobile sector is most important area of our business,” he says. “It is growing rapidly, purely limited by the imagination. People are getting into all sorts of different applications, including whole new commercial models. Growth has been phenomenal. While people have been predominately using voice and SMS, we are now seeing mobile data speeds that are useable, opening a whole new range of things that can be done.

“Available applications suit everybody’s different requirements, from business applications to trivial use. In education, there are great opportunities for using electronic books instead of paper books; electronic book can have mobile access to world libraries. Healthcare is another area of huge opportunity, offering the possibility of taking people out of hospitals, while still monitoring their condition in real time.”

Hart notes that data rates are increasing annually, with 21Mb per second available today on networks. 3G operators will soon go to 42MB. In Australia, 42 MB will be available this year. Current 3G networks will then be upgraded to 84 MB in 2012. These are, of course, theoretical limits. But actual available bandwidth is growing in leaps and bounds.

“The range of mobile devices is continuing to expand in different directions,” says Hart. “In the enterprise space, there is nothing new from an application perspective, but enterprises are paying attention to the advantages mobility can offer in taking systems out of the office. Wireless use is growing, too. Initially, only 10 to 20 percent of organisation workers were given wireless, but this is rising with the realisation that wireless means added productivity.”

Webtrends is a customer intelligence solution that specialises in data collection and analysis for the web analytics industry. “The availability of mobile applications has a huge impact on the mobile computing arena,” says Australasian director Mark Allison. “Apple’s iTunes App Store now offers 201,000 third-party smartphone apps, which generated 3.6 billion downloads in 2009.

By 2013, Futuresource Consulting predicts that figure will quadruple to more than 16 billion, and Morgan Stanley research says in that same year mobile internet will ultimately surpass desktop internet use. Businesses are jumping at the mobile channel’s ability to connect with customers in more strategic and personal ways.”

Allison is quick to point out, however, that for some business will take proven, measurable success before making significant investments in mobile applications. This puts pressure on mobile marketers to justify spending as they try to convert applications downloads into dollars.

“Putting an app in an app store and counting downloads is not enough to measure success. A comprehensive analytics solution is required to monitor the real value of this mobile channel.”

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