By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless magazine
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Hot Spots Heat Up
There's more movement in the public hot-spot market. A recent report from Juniper Research places the worldwide market at $9.7 billion in revenues by 2008, up from $278 million in 2002. So-called last-mile providers -- those offering the hot-spot access itself -- will account for $5.5 billion of that amount, up from $219 million today. Juniper foresees North America revenues at $2.6 billion by 2008, up from $201 million in 2002. The research firm points out that most activity in the 802.11 hot-spot arena has been in the U.S. thus far, and it predicts that the U.S. will remain the largest use of hot-spot services. It estimates that western Europe will be number 2, followed by China at number 3 position.
One of the key providers of hot-spot access in the U.S. is Boingo Wireless, which essentially federates independent providers and provides a common login and billing system. Boingo now offers a Pocket PC 2002 version of its hot-spot access software, in addition to its previous Windows software for desktop and laptop PCs. No Palm or Mac versions as yet. Boingo's main competitor is T-Mobile, the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom that about a year ago bought hot-spot provider MobileStar, which developed hot spot networks for American Airlines and Starbucks Coffee. The third largest player, which has focused on airport and hotel locations, is Wayport. It has a much lower profile than the other two providers, which are aggressively seeking user bases.
However, the movement to establishing three national hot-spot systems does have one drawback: roaming, or the lack thereof. The hot-spot providers so far are not interested in roaming agreements with competitors -- T-Mobile execs were very clear, for example, at a recent event that building market share through exclusive presence was more important than providing customers roaming convenience at this stage of the network rollout. (Boingo's business model, of course, is based on creating roaming agreements between hundreds of smaller providers and creating one brand from all those pieces. But the roaming extends only to those who join the Boingo federation, and customers see it not as roaming but simply as access via Boingo.) Given the high cost of hot-spot subscriptions, companies are not likely to approve multiple services per employee. That's exactly what T-Mobile, which has about 2,000 locations set up, is betting on: that companies will go with the provider that has the most locations rather than pay for multiple providers. This is a shortsighted strategy, as we saw in the early days of cellular phones. A premium roaming rate would protect each of the providers' financial interests and dissuade customers from roaming unnecessarily, while at the same time benefiting customers who happen to be in areas where their standard provider simply doesn't offer service.PRODUCT SCAN:
AirDefense has enhanced its AirDefense security product for 802.11-based networks. AirDefense, released in June, monitors Wi-Fi networks to detect intruders and probe for vulnerabilities, then reports them to IT. The new ActiveDefense component, announced this week, traps intruders into wireless dead zones -- essentially false network locations -- and alerts IT to the intrusion. The company says the technology prevents both unintended intrusion caused by overlapping neighbor networks and active intrusions by people trying to enter a company's 802.11 network without authorization.
Itronix plans a December 9 release of its ruggedized, wirelessly enabled notebook. And, boy, do they mean "wirelessly enabled": Itronix says the new notebook can support GPRS, CDMA, and 802.11b, for instance, with a seamless handoff and automatic access to any available network. Itronix sells to customers such as Sears and the U.S. Defense Dept., whose workers don't spend most of their days in safe, predictable locations like offices, hotel rooms, and conference centers.
Speaking of rugged, Symbol Technologies unveiled its new PPT 8800 handheld, which includes 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless connections, as well as an integrated barcode reader, in an 11-ounce, standard-size PDA format. Designed for inventory, retail, and health care environments, it runs Windows CE .Net 4.1. Pircing information is not available. Meanwhile, for more traditional white-collar users, Hewlett-Packard has announced the $699 iPaq H5450, which includes built-in 802.11b technology and has the same form factor as previous models, so it works with existing sleds and peripherals.
While it's easy for a company to announce a technology "vision" that goes nowhere, Navini is promising something that I'll risk mentioning even though the technology is not yet implemented in shipping products. Navini offers non-line-of-sight wireless wide area networks using proprietary technology, in a system called Riptide. But seeing the growing dominance of 802.11x protocols, it now promises an IP client that works with standard IP networks as well as Riptide. Even better, Navini claims it will handle the handoff from one network to another, allowing, for example, a Riptide system to aggregate a series of Wi-Fi hot spots and permit roaming among them without user intervention. Here's keeping my fingers crossed.
Also on the roaming front, NetMotion Wireless is offering buyers of the new Hewlett-Packard iPaq Pocket PC H5400 series a six-month free trial of its NetMotion Mobility 4.0 software, which allows automated handoff among Wi-Fi LANs, WANs, and public hot spots. Centralized user administration and authentication let IT control individual users' access. The trial software comes on a CD included with the H5400s.
IBM is offering a development tool at http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/wstkMD that lets companies create Java-based wireless applications for Pocket PC, Palm, and BlackBerry devices. IBM is trying to establish itself as a key wireless technology provider, in the same vein it has been pushing Linux. And as it does in its Linux efforts, IBM presents itself as the un-Microsoft, supporting multiple standards (unlike Microsoft, whose wireless development kits are centered around Microsoft's .Net-oriented C# and Visual Basic languages). The more things change, ...
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The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace
Research in Motion has built a loyal following in several niches, such as finance and law, with its always-on, paging network-based BlackBerry service. RIM has tried to broaden its market beyond those who need email all the time by adding applications that help it compete with promised Palm and cellular data services yet to materialize in any significant way (excepting the Java-based services from business cellular carrier Nextel Communications). But email may be RIM's sweet spot after all, as evidenced by its recent deal with Nokia to license the BlackBerry software for future phones. No details yet on which phones and what the service availability will be. Because RIM has ported the BlackBerry service to the GSM cellular networks commonly used outside the U.S., Nokia could offer BlackBerry service anywhere in the world.
Intermec is trying to push the use of radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags by lowering its royalty prices to manufacturers who sign on to Intermec's RFID technology by February 28. RFID is a compelling wireless technology that could let machine-to-machine communication really take off. The tags don't require power -- they passively react to a signal beamed at them. RFID is already in use to track railcars, freight palettes, and cars being shipped. On the consumer side, they're used in transponders that automatically debit motorists for tolls when crossing bridges in California and parts of the Northeast -- and they have been tested in consumer applications such as buying gas and food (the Mobil Oil SpeedPass service and a test run at several fast-food chains) as sort of wireless debit cards. As tags get smaller, they could eventually replace the Universal Product Codes (UPC), the sequence of bars printed on most products, enabling tracking oif products at the unit level not just at the traincar or palette level. Intermec is hardly the only provider of RFID technology -- there's even an RFID technology center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- but this move might help push RFID adoption even further.
One difficulty for IT in the early stages of any technology is the splintering of options among so many providers. In a down economy, the integration costs can be prohibitive, giving businesses another reason to hold off on new technology investments. Four companies are trying to overcome that objection by teaming up: Citrix Systems, Ingram Micro, Sierra Wireless, and Sprint PCS have launched a bundled enterprise wireless data solution. They'll let resellers offer enterprise application access (such as sales force automation, customer relationship management, field service dispatch, and inventory management via the Sprint PCS cellular network from laptops and PDAs using Sierra Wireless PCS cards. Citrix provides the application server software that ties the mobile workers into the enterprise applications, while Ingram Micro packages the offerings for resellers.
Another good sign of the industry working to simplify and standardize basic technologies is the Open Mobile Alliance's publication this week of draft specifications for cellular-based enabling applications such as email, browsing, digital rights management, instant and multimedia messaging, and dowloading. Members include hardware providers Ericsson, Cisco Systems, Motorola, Nokia, and Sony; software providers IBM, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sun Microsystems; and carriers AT&T Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint Spectrum, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and Vodafone. The 300-member OMA also includes several smaller alliances, such as the Location Interoperability Forum and SyncML Initiative, while the Mobile Wireless Internet Forum and Mobile Games Interoperability Forum are expected to join. This group will either get bogged down in members' conflicting market goals or get something done -- it has the right makeup if the will is there.
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