June 9, 2003
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Managing Sales Wirelessly

The use of 802.11 technology has reinvigorated wireless, providing fast access within defined areas. But before 802.11 became the rage in the last two years, another form of wireless was touted to help the most mobile workers salespeople, traveling executives and consultants, and in-the-field support and technical staffs. Today, such cellular data services are struggling for attention and adoption (see the story "Which Carriers Are Serious about Cellular Data," in the April 28 issue), but there is a promising development.

The Research in Motion BlackBerry service, as well as the competing service from Good Technology, uses pager networks to transmit data in an always-on mode, and the BlackBerry has attracted a loyal user base of several hundred thousand people who sometimes call their email-oriented devices "CrackBerries." Unlike cellular-based services, users aren't charged based on access time or bytes used, which can make cellular data services very expensive very fast.

Research in Motion has tried for several years to get beyond the email market so it could reach more than traveling executives. Newer BlackBerries support application installation, in hopes of making the BlackBerry a more widely usable platform, more akin to a PDA than to a messaging device. But screen limits and keyboard limits hamper the use of messaging devices and PDAs as alternatives to the laptop.

Dejima is using natural language query tools to overcome these limits, and the its technology has been picked up by Salesforce.com as part of its sales force automation offering. Salesforce.com subscribers can now access sales data over their BlackBerries using email-based queries. It also works with wirelessly enabled PDAs. Mark Smith, vice president of global sales at NetScreen, a security software provider, is a true believer. "I found it to be really intuitive, especially because they give you a list of 50 to 100 queries. I just started using it no training." For Smith, a key benefit is "being able to look at a salesperson's pipeline and forecast for the quarter" as he travels throughout the country. "And being able to walk into accounts and be able to look at the historical trends and what we're going to do is huge." Smith says it takes about three minutes to complete a query, less time than booting a notebook and finding a place to connect it to the Internet with.

The Dejima technology also supports a menu-driven mode so users don't have to remember queries, but Smith never bothered to install it since he makes the same queries all the time. But Salesforce.com spokesman Tien Tzu says that mode permits users to fill out forms, which is useful for sales reps updating client orders and records while on the road. Because Salesforce.com offers its sales force automation tools as a hosted, subscription-based service, there's no IT effort involved in connecting the sales systems to the wireless devices; an administrator simply enables the wireless option in a Salesforce.com user profile screen and no setup is required for email-based access. For customers paying $125 per month, Salesforce.com doesn't charge extra for the wireless access to its Internet-based sales databases; it costs $20 per month extra for the $65-per-month service.

802.11-based applications tend to be standard Windows or Macintosh applications that simply use 802.11 as a network transport, perhaps with additional login and authentication, which is fine for high-bandwidth connections. But in the low-bandwidth cellular world, another approach is needed. While the Dejima interface approach is more like DOS than Windows, the technology demonstrates that the slower paging and cellular networks can be used to access critical data efficiently, with the benefit of accessibility almost anywhere in populated areas.

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

From our editors

A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Spring 2003 Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 18-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the directory now!

The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech

There were many key developments in the last two weeks across the spectrum of wireless technologies. On the 802.11 front:
  • The National Institute for Standards and Technology, a federal agency, is working on developing a standard for ad-hoc networks using 802.11 radios. The goal is to let mobile devices and notebooks equipped with 802.11 radios automatically communicate with each other including voice, data, and telemetry as they come within range, so firefighters, police, and other public safety personnel can instantly exchange information as they come on a scene, without worrying about how configuring their devices. The NIST has developed the prototype technology to allow this, as part of the federal government's post-September 11 attack efforts to improve first-responder capabilities at disaster sites.
  • Microsoft has released an update to Windows XP that includes drivers for the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) vendor standard for key encryption of wireless access codes. It's meant to replace the Wired Equivalency Protocol (WEP) encryption standard that is part of the IEEE 802.11b standard and that hackers have shown can be broken fairly easily. The IEEE is working on 802.11i, a replacement for WEP, but an industry association decided to release WPA as an interim step since 802.11i is about a year away from completion. WPA is based on 802.11i working group efforts, so the wireless vendors hope it will be easy to upgrade from WPA when 802.11i is released. One aspect of WPA is that it requires the use of 802.1x authentication, which was optional in WEP. Details are available from Microsoft.
  • Funk Software is shipping Odyssey Client v2.1, the new version of its secure wireless LAN access client that adds support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) authentication. It runs on Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP systems.
  • Hitachi has released the VisionPlate, a ruggedized wireless thin-client tablet that runs both Windows and Linux. The 2.6-pound device comes with 802.11b connectivity, as well as USB and PC Card connections, plus up to 192MB of RAM and up to 256MB of storage via CompactFlash cards. It uses a low-power 400MHz Transmeta Crusoe TM3200 processor. It's designed for transportation, health-care, insurance, hospitality, and industrial uses.
  • Planet3 Wireless has updated its vendor-neutral Certified Wireless Network Administrator training and testing program, which is delivered through Prometric Testing Centers. The program is recognized by the NACSE and BISCI professional education groups.
  • Sybase, best known for its databases, says it will invest $25 million to improve roaming between wireless networks, improve security, and design applications that consume less battery power. Sybase says it has 10,000 corporate customers for its iAnywhere mobile information access business and more than 8 million registered users for its AvantGo mobile information service.

On the cellular side, Cingular Wireless plans to introduce EDGE cellular networks, a faster variant of the GPRS technology used by most GSM-based carriers for their mobile voice-and-data networks. Cingular will start in Indianapolis in August or September, after a current trial effort there is complete. Cingular, a joint effort of BellSouth and SBC, plans to convert its cellular network to be 90% GSM by year's end, up from 50% at the end of 2002. EDGE works on top of GSM to provide the data services and more voice channels. The company expects EDGE to provide speeds of 100Kbps, twice that of a landline modem or of GPRS service. The company will also use GPRS technology in its national network and says it will launch unspecified data services over the next two years.

 The Supercomm conference in Atlanta last week was a popular venue to announce wireless and cellular products. Among this year's highlights:
  • U.S. Robotics plans to ship in July the Wireless Turbo 802.11g product line that includes a router, multifunction access point, PCI adapter, and PC card. The company says the products can run at at up 100Mbps, nearly twice  the 802.11g's 54Mbps maximum. The 100Mbps maximum rates can be achieved only among U.S. Robotics Wireless Turbo equipment; other equipment from U.S. Robotics and other vendors will run at a maximum of 54Mbps for 802.11g devices and at a maximum of 11Mbps for 802.11b devices.
  • Also playing the speed game is SMC Networks, which announced it will use Prism's Nitro technology in the new SMC' family of 802.11g products. SMC claims the use of Nitro technology provides up to 50% more throughput in 802.11g-only networks and up to 300% more in mixed-mode (802.11b and g) networks by eliminating collisions and using packet-burst technology.
  • ZyXel has announced its ZyAir B-4000 "hot spot in a box" offering to help small businesses offer 802.11b hot-spot connectivity to their customers. It is designed with billing and receipt printing capabilities for commercial businesses and retail outlets.
  • Cirronet has released two wireless transceivers for use by wireless Internet service providers: the WaveBolt Series 58 system, which operates in the unlicensed 5.8GHz band (for 802.11a connections) and a 2.4GHz (802.11b/g) subscriber unit with a built-in high-gain antenna for when increased range is required.
  • Intermec Technologies has announced SkyPay, a credit-card billing service for mobile sales and field forces. The service is accessible via GPRS and CDMA2000 1XRTT cellular data services from the Intermec 700 Series mobile computers and 782 "workboard" printers with integrated magnetic stripe readers. The service includes the credit-card processing through Fifth Third Bank Processing Solutions, so users don't need to set up separate credit-card processing accounts.

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to news@it-wireless.com.



Palm's Handspring Buyout Shows a Sad PDA Market

Last week, Palm announced it would acquire Handspring in a stock deal, bringing back the founders of Palm, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, to the company they left in 1997 after they grew frustrated with the slow progress made by then-new owner 3Com. This news is actually quite sad, since it shows how desperate the Palm market has become. PDA sales dropped 21% in the first quarter, another in a series of slides. And according to a recent research study performed by In-Stat/MDR, the once-anticipated corporate purchasing of PDAs has not happened to any significant degree. Worse, what little inventory was shipping through businesses seems to have abruptly decelerated.

Once a very hot product that triggered hopes of easily accessible, ubiquitous data services, the Palm platform has struggled to get past its origins as an electronic organizer of contacts and appointments. After years of promises, Palm finally began offering in earnest this year a revamped Palm platform, the Tungsten series, that supported 802.11b and 3G cellular connections for wireless access to the Internet and corporate data. But Research in Motion made a name for itself in that market several years ago, and key providers to mobile-oriented markets such as field force and inventory management, such as Intermec Technologies and Symbol Technology, also offer similar services in their handheld. So Palm is a latecomer to the very enterprise market its 1992 debut foreshadowed. (It is good, of course, that Palm now has partnerships with companies such as BEA Systems, IBM, and Oracle for enterprise data connectivity.)

Handspring abandoned the PDA market a year ago, focusing instead on the smart phone market, which combines a cell phone with traditional PDA and wirelessly accessible data services. That market has struggled, with even Microsoft getting no traction in it perhaps the cellular carriers' incessant promotion of faddish game and camera phones for consumers, coupled with PC-level smart phone prices, has killed any enterprise appetite for pricey devices apparently designed for teenaged mall rats.

Now, Handspring's Treo will simply be Palm's smart phone, a Tungsten with a dial pad. That may help round out Palm's offerings, but it also removes the only real Palm OS-based innovator from the market. It's hard to imagine that Palm is any more receptive now to innovation than it was when Dubinsky and Hawkins first left. After all, Palm's seeming focus since then has been an unending series of reorganizations rather than product leadership. The internally focused Palm management remains, and Dubinsky and Hawkins will again be inside a culture they rejected firmly for the last five years.

One ray of light in all this: Palm's past failed leadership did open the way for RIM, Intermec, Symbol, and other companies to reinvent their mobile devices, so the market doesn't depend on Palm any longer to lead the way. A reenergized Palm would be a good thing, but it's not a necessary thing.

Another ray of light: Palm is continuing its effort to spin off the operating system group as a separate company, maintaining its commitment to keeping the Palm OS available to other hardware makers rather than stay captive to Palm's hardware group. That's a hard decision to make (Apple Computer came close to it in 1997 then had a palace coup when cofounder Steve Jobs decided he couldn't allow the Mac OS to be available to other computer makers, especially since one licensee had been seriously damaging Apple's sales), but it will ensure that the Palm platform has a chance to thrive whether or not the Palm hardware group finds compelling uses for it.


For advertising information, contact Manny Sawit at (510) 583-0855 or msawit@it-wireless.com


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