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Issue #2003 - 28 (November 2003)
(Updated Nov. 4, 2003)


Gartner's Disposable Mobility

Source: ZDNET

At a recent Gartner conference, Nick Jones of Gartner Group noted that there's a significant degree of uncertainty in the future of the various wireless networking technologies--which are the key enablers to mobility. Between the myriad short- and long-range wireless networking technologies (standard and proprietary), the pace at which they are evolving, and their changing applicability to various application types, the volatility in the networking area alone over the next 12 to 48 months is enough to make most recent deployments look prehistoric within a couple of years.

For example, in showing the 2G to 3G roadmap for long range (carrier-based) wireless networks, Jones showed how, starting in 2001, the GSM and TDMA infrastructures in the U.S. and Europe took 18 months to merge into GPRS (general packet radio service) and then, took 12 to 18 months to bifurcate into two paths (GPRS and EDGE), each of which subsequently will take about 24 months to converge on WCDMA. Running parallel to that, Jones' roadmap shows the evolution of CDMA, the predominant alternative to GPRS in the U.S., from its plain vanilla incarnation in 2001, to CDMA2000 1xRTT (what's available from Sprint and Verizon today) to CDMA 1x-EV DO and CDMA 1x-EV DV, the former of which Verizon is testing in San Diego and Washington, D.C. but whose future is cloudy.

The incremental steps on Jones' roadmaps are associated primarily with breakthroughs in bandwidth, which creates a moving target in terms of what mobile solution architects can ask their applications to do. Further complicating the mobile solution architect's job are the confusing labyrinths on the short-range wireless and device fronts, as well as the changing range in the ongoing costs associated with the provisioning of wireless connectivity. Jones divided the roadmap into adjacent (Active RFID, Passive RFID, and near field), personal area networks (ultrawideband, 802.15.4, Bluetooth, and proprietary PAN), LAN (proprietary mesh, 802.11 a thru f, and 802.15.4), and metropolitan area networks (802.16, proprietary fixed mesh, and 802.11b). As can be seen from the technologies listed in each of the short-range silos, some technologies are strictly vertical applications while others can be applied horizontally. Between that complication and the expected evolution within each silo, those deploying mobile applications have to decide whether they'll try to straddle silos and, if they do, which networking technology is best to use. 
Incidentally, in a meeting with Intel chairman and CEO Craig Barrett here in Orlando, Barrett mentioned 802.16 (otherwise known as WiMax) enough times to make clear that it's a strategic technology for Intel. Intel's vice president of sales and marketing has also discussed the company's plans for manufacturing 802.16 silicon.

"The entire value chain is shrouded in a veil of volatility," said Jones. "Mobile success is not about strategy, it's about tactics." Perhaps Jones' 18-month window is a blessing for those seeking job security. If you can convince your boss that your company should be prepared to throw out today's deployment in 18 months, that about coincides with the time you (and your management) might begin regretting a "legacy" technology decision. Once expectations are properly set, you may not be held accountable for more strategic decisions.

According to Jones, every organization must be prepared for multiple device connectivity. Speaking of Symbian, RIM, WinCE (and derivatives like PocketPC), and PalmOS, Jones noted that comparing the mobile platforms to each other is like comparing apples to oranges. Because each platform has its own strengths and because of the range of needs of individual users, IT departments will have to accept the fact that setting device standards, especially against the backdrop of device evolution, could be an impossible task. The resulting conundrum is what Jones calls "managed diversity."

Jones did, however, declare Microsoft's PocketPC the winner in the thick mobile client category for enterprise deployments. He failed to mention, however, that in a few years just about every platform will be pretty thick by today's standards. If Jones is right about PocketPC, it may not win only in the enterprise applications category. It could win across the board--an outlook that doesn't bode well for Symbian, RIM, or PalmSource and perhaps Java. According to the research firm Canalys, shipments of HP's PocketPC-based handhelds recently surged ahead of those from Palm in Europe, which has been a traditional stronghold for both Symbian and Palm.

I asked Jones whether it might make sense to target Java, one of the most common denominators across the various platforms. In response, Jones lamented the fate of Java, declaring the mobile versions crippled, and blaming Java's current custodians (primarily Sun and the network operators) for dropping the ball. Ultimately, Jones believes, Java could help to manage the diversity if only another custodian would step forward. Without naming names, Jones sees a 70 percent probability that "someone will produce a more standardized corporate Java."

That someone is undoubtedly IBM. In what I think is Big Blue's first attempt to spread its Java gospel beyond the domain of its own offerings, IBM recently announced that its version of mobile Java --- known as WebSphere Micro Environment --- would be distributed with Palm Solution Group's Tungsten handhelds.

Managing that diversity, however, has its challenges. To face that challenge, Jones offered another idea: Turn over your mobile projects to an IT service organization. "You have to be the integrator," said Jones. Unfortunately, there isn't even a middle of the road one stop solution. The safest bet is to go to an IT services provider and, where they don't have the coverage, get them to at the very least manage it. The lowest risk is to go with a large IT services provider."

For more information: http://www.gartner.com

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: Gartner is a respectable research organization. It sent several messages at this conference - directed at both the industry itself - we mean the providers, and the consumers of providers' products and services - we mean, the the enduser organizations.

Nick has restated what is common with emerging technologies that cross industry boundaries and sub-disciplines within those industries - Information technology infrastructure, backend legacy and new web applications, fixed line networking, wireless networks, application development on continuously evolving devices. Systems integration of wireless data projects is complex and fraught with risks. But that is exactly where good technology architects, planners and project managers have to show their mettle. If we are looking for safe and reliable products that work always, we are not there yet. In spite of all this, it can be done. There are enough examples and instances of this. What Nick is saying - tread the water with full awareness that it is not easy. Be skeptical of all the claims that sales folks make. Learn from the experience of your colleagues. Manage your users' expectations. Hire the best experts. Payoffs and benefits are definitely there. 

Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and section 21E of Securities Exchange act of 1934 in USA. Similar provisions exist in other countries. There is no assurance that the stipulated plans of vendors will be implemented. MobileInfo does not warrant the authenticity of the information. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.

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