May 30, 2005
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech

Sprint has announced the national rollout of its Sprint Business Mobility Framework, which helps enterprises extend corporate applications to mobile workers and expand the power of those applications with location-based services, messaging, and geographic notifications. The services would let businesses locate and track mobile workers or assets nationwide, as well as direct workers across geographic lines, provide text or voice messages, and share critical wireless data information with workers, the company says. Sprint Business Mobility Framework provides an open-standards network gateway interface to the Sprint Nationwide PCS Network, enabling integration of applications such as those from IBM and Microsoft with Sprint network services.

Microsoft has released Version 5 of its Windows Mobile software (aka Windows CE). Several vendors including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Intermec Technologies announced compatible products. Among the additions to Windows Mobile are support for third-generation (3G) cellular connections as well as improved Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, greater flexibility to customize devices and solutions, productivity enhancements that include updated Microsoft Office software and persistent memory storage for more efficient data management, support for Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, and support for hard drives and USB 2.0 devices.

Roving Planet has shipped its Roving Planet Commander Suite 3.0 that centrally secures, scales, monitors, and manages Wi-Fi networks from multiple vendors. Combining configuration management together with advanced security and visibility options, Commander Suite 3.0 lets the enterprise set security policies for network admission and access. It also automatically generates correlated reports that show the relationship between security events and network activity. It is available as an integrated software suite or as stand-alone modules.

In an unusual move, Nokia has introduced a handheld tablet for Web browsing over a wireless broadband connection. Aimed at the home market, the new Internet Tablet slated to go on sale this summer is based on the open-source Linux operating system rather than the Symbian platform Nokia uses for "smart" cell phones. Priced at $350, the Internet Tablet is being positioned as an alternative to buying an extra PC or laptop for different rooms, providing a cheaper, quicker, and easier way to connect to the Web and e-mail at home. There's no hard drive; the unit comes with 128MB of onboard flash memory as well as a memory card slot. A software update is expected early next year to add features such as voice-over-Internet telephony and instant messaging. Although not aimed directly at the enterprise, the device shows continued in interest in tablet-type devices, which so far have suffered poor sales because of weight and battery life issues. Nokia's move signals continued efforts to figure out how to take advantage of the tablet form factor, which if successful might find itself into retail or hospital use despite the failures of traditional tablets in those businesses.

Symbol Technologies has announced a suite of products to provide greater security for wireless networks. The new product enhancements include the Symbol Wireless Intrusion Protection System, RF Management network performance and management tool, and the WS2000 wireless switch. All products should be available by October.

To spur adoption of radiofrequency identification (RFID) and to simplify licensing of its RFID intellectual property portfolio, Intermec Technologies has a limited-time Rapid Start Licensing Program that provides RFID manufacturers access to Intermec's broad portfolio of RFID innovation at attractive rates. The program, which begins June 1 and concludes Aug. 31, "will provide the marketplace with clear guidance about which vendors are licensed to use Intermec's RFID IP and will simplify complicated technology cross-licensing issues," the company claims. Intermec is in a legal dispute over RFID patents with Symbol Technologies, so one of the program's goals may be to steer customers away from Symbol (see our story last issue).

In other product news:

  • Columbitech has announced the Wireless VPN tool for securing wireless voice applications, without dropping calls during reauthentication.
  • WildPackets has added in-depth VoIP analysis to the capabilities of its OmniPeek Console, a wireless network analyzer. The VoIP-enabled version is called OmniPeek Voice.
  • Fortress Technologies has upgraded its wireless security offerings with support for granular role-based policy management, greater identity management and tighter access control on a scalable platform that supports up to 50,000 users and 5,000 gateways.
  • LeCroy has announced the UWBTracer, which it claims is the industry's first protocol analyzer that supports the new ultra wideband (UWB) WiMedia and Wireless USB (WUSB) standards.
  • Mobitrac has released Version 2.0 of its self-named mobile dispatch and fleet management service. It adds real-time predictive modeling and dynamic analytic capabilities, as well as supports location information from mobile devices.
  • LightPointe is launching FlightStrata 100 XA, an integrated 100Mbps Ethernet optical wireless link combined with license-free 5.8GHz (802.11a) technology. The outdoor wireless networking solution switches network traffic between optical wireless and 5.8GHz RF paths.
  • TerraWave Solutions has unveiled a line of inexpensive enclosures designed to protect wireless LAN radios from tampering and harsh environmental conditions.
  • Aten Technology has released its KW1000 KVM over Wireless product, which allows wireless transmission of video at 1200-by-1600 resolution to remote monitors using the 802.11b protocol.

In hot-spot news:

  • Boston is joining the ranks of cities providing wireless broadband service to its businesses and citizens. The first two Boston-based Wi-Fi deployments offer free Internet access to residents and businesses located in the West Roxbury and Roslindale sections of the city. Colubris Networks, Single Digits, and Ascio Wireless provided the technology. Philadelphia are engaged in similar efforts, sparking an effort by carrier Verizon Wireless to block such city-sponsored services in Pennsylvania because it said competition by public entities was unfair. (Verizon did agree to not block Philadelphia's efforts, though it did help get a state law passed that would let carries block similar moves by other cities in Pennsylvania.) San Francisco; Milwaukee; Dayton, Ohio; Hartford, Conn.; Long Beach, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Hermosa Beach, Calif.; Hollywood, Fla.; Pembroke Pines, Fla., Chaska, Minn.; and Nantucket, Mass. have all begun similar efforts. And Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York all contacted Philadelphia as part of deliberations on offering similar services, according to news reports.
  • Sprint subsidiary Nextel has debuted its WiFi HotSpot Service, which relies on Boingo Wireless for Wi-Fi access and software and on Wayport for wired hotel access.

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The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace

The Palm Soap Opera Continues

The years-long musical chairs game at Palm continues. Earlier this year, the PalmOne unit that makes the Palm and Treo hardware lost its CEO, and last week the PalmSource unit that owns and licenses the Palm OS lost its CEO. (The PalmOne unit did get a new CEO last week: the former CEO of Handspring, who true to the soap opera tale that is Palm is Ed Colligan, a Palm founder who left to found Handspring and then came back when Palm bought Handspring.)

The PalmSource unit also sold the Palm name to the PalmOne hardware unit, which plans to rename itself just Palm, its original name. The movement of the Palm name from the licensing unit to the hardware unit has also led many to believe that the Palm OS will be replaced in coming years with a new operating system, likely based on Linux, for Palm handhelds. In fact, interim PalmSource CEO Patrick McVeigh told the Associated Press that among the changes he plans to make is to move the company toward an open source operating system for the handheld devices. "I can tell you several major players have already contacted me and what they tell me is this: They want an open alternative no closed, proprietary systems," McVeigh said at a PalmSource conference in San Jose, Calif., according to the AP. "That's where we're going. We've already talked about the possibility of moving over to Linux."

These continued machinations make it hard for many enterprises to use Palm technology in their mobile workforce arsenal. And continued efforts by Microsoft and Dell have given the enterprise an alternative to the once-leading handheld maker. (To PalmOne's credit, the new LifeDrive is a beefier, more multifunctional PDA than previous Palm devices, showing that the platform could be reenergized if the company truly focused on it.)

Unfortunately, most of Palm's activities in the last five years have been focused on internal reorganizations, reintegration of the Handspring team that left years before because of their unhappiness with Palm's internal management woes, the split up of the company into hardware and OS wings, loss of major licensees such as Sony, and now the apparent plans to jettison the proprietary operating system in favor of something more standards-based. That's a long time not to know your mission. And acquired hits like Handspring's Treo can only carry a company like Palm so far. Perhaps these latest changes show that the Treo device acquired from Handspring has carried Palm as far as it can.

RFID-Based Payments Come to Georgia

Residents of Atlanta and 160 other cities in Georgia will help test the new Blink payment cards, which JPMorgan Chase & Co. will begin mailing to its customers June 1. The cards are regular credit cards with one difference: They contain radiofrequency identification (RFID) chips to support contactless payments. That means no swiping a car through a reader, which JPMorgan estimates will reduce transaction times by 20 seconds, helping shorten lines at businesses so merchants can handle more customers with fewer staff. (Instead, you wave the card near the reader.) In Atlanta, the cards will be accepted at hundreds of businesses starting next month, mostly at pharmacies, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and movie theaters.

Other organizations have used RFID for contactless payments for some years for example, ExxonMobil has the SpeedPay system at its Mobil Oil stations, while several transportation authorities use in-car transponder to automatically debit account holders for bridge tolls but these use proprietary payment systems. The Blink card uses the standard credit-card processing system for its transactions. Vendors of card readers are expected to make RFID reading an option, so customers could continue to use traditional swiped cards as well as the contactless Blink cards at the same terminals.

Just another sign that RFID is making steady progress into enterprise systems. (For more on contactless payments, see our previous story.)


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