March 21, 2005
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Does 3G Kill Messaging?

A decade ago, Research in Motion took an underused paging network and transformed it into a must-have executive messaging service that let executives and other business travelers access basic email. Now with more than 24,000 corporate customers, the BlackBerry service all but defined wireless enterprise connectivity. (A competing service from Good Technology has about 3,000 corporate customers.)

However, with third-generation (3G) networks coming available this year from Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS, and Cingular Wireless, such messaging services will compete with real email. Notebook users equipped with a 3G modem card can access their mail via Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, or any other standard desktop mail client, getting all the attachments and capabilities you'd have at the office. Windows Mobile-based handhelds also come with a limited version of the Outlook client. So there's no need for a text-based messaging system.

"Being able to open an email attachment is a huge thing," observes Mark Morell, wireless marketing director at Nortel Networks. "It's very valuable, even on a small device, to be able to look at it and provide feedback on it, even if you can't create your own PowerPoints."

But messaging systems may still have a place. For example, Sandy Potter, vice president of business development at refurbished computer equipment provider Canvas Systems, has kept her BlackBerry service even though her notebook has a 3G modem. One reason is that it's always available, without having to find a place to sit and boot up a notebook, she says. Plus, "it provides international capability without having to think about it," she notes. (CDMA networks are rare outside the U.S. and China, limiting Verizon and Sprint users' coverage. And the more widely deployed GSM networks have 3G service in just a handful of U.S. areas. The BlackBerry service, by contrast, is available over multiple networks, allowing easier roaming abroad.)

Another reason that messaging services  including RIM's BlackBerry, Good's GoodLink, and those offered by the cellular carriers  may not go away with 3G's arrival is battery life of the devices. "Broadband connectivity means more power usage" both from the 3G radios and from the extra storage and memory needed to run richer applications, notes Ojas Rege, senior director of mobile solutions at iAnywhere. Devices such as the BlackBerry use less power because of their narrower application focus, he says.

Easier connectivity also gives messaging services a lasting role, argues John Friend, CTO of Good Technology. "VPNs on handhelds are often unstable and have conflicts with the carrier networks," he says. Friend says he expects that executives and senior salespeople will continue to be provisioned a messaging device, as well as get 3G-enabled notebooks.

The usage for a messaging device is also different than that of a standard email client on a notebook or PC, says John Kuch, senior marketing manager at Seven, which develops carrier services. "We're finding, most users of mobile email triage their email - read and delete. About 90 percent of our users use wireless devices to read and delete only. We don't expect users to write long messages." Seven's services are sold through the carriers, and the company is working on a messaging services for wireless PDAs and "smartphones" that would cost about $25 per month in addition to the basic voice plan a user has. The company hopes this will extend messaging beyond the executive-user market.

"Wireless email is going to continue to grow," says Antoine Blondeau, vice president of wireless at Salesforce.com. And messaging providers will continue to enrich their services, taking advantage of 3G networks while continuing to provide their easy, instant, secured messaging benefits, he says. For example, RIM has added TCP/IP support to its BlackBerry service, allowing easier connections to corporate resources. And both Good and RIM provided end-to-end encryption for their messaging services, something that standard email servers and clients do not do, Blondeau notes.

"Today's messaging functionality doesn't need EVDO or HSDPA [the two 3G technologies that carriers will offer between now and 2007], but tomorrow we'll take advantage of it," says Good CTO Friend. "We'll get to offer more interesting functions than we could before. The range of messaging functions can really expand  working with attachments is an example," he adds.

If messaging's core application remains basic text, however, it will eventually go the way of dialup Internet service, which has become a slowly dying commodity used more and more by the least sophisticated users.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at news@it-wireless.com.


THIS ISSUE'S SPONSOR:  BLUESOCKET
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