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    Enterprising approach


    Operators have been talking about mobilising enterprise applications for a while, but 3G and WLAN have given them a new chance to open up the market. By Keith Dyer.

    By 2007, 65% of companies will have deployed at least one wireless application, according to research firm Meta Group. The list of which applications enterprises want to mobilise is not exactly a surprise. Messaging will top the most-wanted application list, with 50% of organisations enabling wireless e-mail within three years and 75% within four years.

    However, MetaGroup projects that e-mail will serve merely as a starting gate for the enterprise wireless movement, not the finish line. Jack Gold, vp at Meta, says that users will demand more applications once they have got used to wireless email.

    “Companies will respond by deploying mission-critical wireless applications that address asset management, logistics, delivery, and a host of other enterprise needs. Moreover, as the types of applications increase, so too will the size of the deployments,” he says.  We’ve been here before, of course, but in Europe the major difference for the wireless enterprise market is the actual availability of two mobile broadband access technologies that have enterprises beginning to take some interest — 3G and WLAN.

    Although 3G is perhaps not what it was originally intended to be in terms of connection speeds, it still represents a significant step up in capability for mobile enterprises, says Andy Rapley of Orsus Solutions, a company that provides wireless enterprise data optimisation software,

    “With GSM, enterprises wanting to extend the desktop experience to mobile workers were able to offer only basic email; moreover, users had to endure slow response times on mobile devices. Certainly, companies were not able to benefit from any CRM data whatsoever. The pieces of the puzzle weren’t fitting together — slow communications, out of date devices and an outdated  infrastructure were literally holding companies back in their enterprise strategies.
    “GPRS has offered companies some vital solutions to transporting data. However, with the arrival of 3G, companies will be able to benefit from remote access to any type of corporate data and office applications at speeds of up to seven times faster than GPRS. 3G also offers the first, true ‘always on’ connection which means information can potentially be sent and retrieved in real time, so that users will be able to keep track of orders, as well as communicating instantly with colleagues using instant messenger applications.”

    GPRS has allowed companies to benefit from strategic services such as extending CRM and ERP to mobile workforces, but with the arrival of 3G
    and faster speeds, businesses will be far better placed to capitalise on
    these applications, Rapely predicts.

    “Users in the field will be able to pull up previous customer history instantly and be aware of  any previous problems, so that they can deal with any issues the customer has quickly and efficiently. Companies using 3G will benefit from faster response times — just 20 seconds instead of 2 minutes; as well as be able to send far larger volumes of data than with GPRS.”

    All of this has an obvious impact on the way business can and will be

    conducted, particularly on customer service and the information available to mobile workers. As speed, connections and coverage will no longer be barriers
    for remote access, key applications such as CRM and ERP will not only be mobilised, but will also be far more effective.

    Rapley does sound a warning note, however. For most users speed is not everything.

    “Most field-based employees are task driven and not IT application driven so whilst access to data is important it is even more crucial that the data is structured in a way that compliments the core functions of the field operative.” n other words, although 3G and WLAN open up new opportunities, the way operators offer and manage enterprise solutions will be as important as saying, “here’s a data card for your laptop, have fun.”

    Jay Saw, T-Mobile’s WLAN product manager says that for T-Mobile the important aspect is being able to offer an integrated service between connection technologies.

    “We bought our 3G licence and at the same time we saw an opportunity in WLAN. It could have been a disruption to the market but we saw it was better to offer both together, taking away the pain from the choice. It means we have been able to become more focussed on the end user experience.

    “It also means we can take an organisation’s decision making concerns away in the issues of payment and billing and provisioning. By building and running our own hotspots in conjunction with 3G we have a unique product in the market. For £70 per month you can have near-enough unlimited usage on one bill.’

    Saw contrasts this approach with his competitors’, who he says are being “very tentative” about WiFi and are employing it more as a defensive measure against competing access technologies

    “When you look at the end user experience and who uses this and how — the enterprise market shows a big demand. A sales rep may be out in a more rural area, and can connect via GPRS. Later in the day he may be back in the city between meetings and need a quick connection and he can use 3G for this. Then, a little later, he may be ready for a period of concentrated work and so he may pop into a Starbucks for an hour or so and use the WLAN.

    Saw insists that the other operators
    “have never really embraced this” in terms of building out their own hotspots.  “The real advantage we have is that we can manage the whole user experience. We have a piece of client software that allows you to switch between 3G service and WiFi. If you don’t have your own hotspot then you don’t have the ability to do that. “

    It’s not just about useability as well. Having an integrated solution means T-Mobile can me “a lot more holistic” in terms of offering a single price as well.

    “The others are saying you can have WiFi but as an add-on cost and as such even a modest amount of use can accelerate enterprise costs quite considerably. Vodafone’s pricing almost discourages you from using WiFi too much. We don’t want to be so prescriptive. If Vodafone buys wholesale minutes from BT they are coming at it from a totally different perspective. From our point of view we provide our customer experience end to end and without that you can’t show the benefits.”
    The argument Saw makes about owning your own hotpots is perhaps only marginally weakened by a recent agreement T-Mobile has made to give users access to BT OpenZone sites in the UK. Openzone has agreements with the other UK operators as well. 

    Saw has another bone to pick with his competitors, and again it’s one which may have been better left alone in the light of T-Mobile’s OpenZone tie-up.

    “One thing that is really important when the other operators claim they have hotspots is to look at the nature and quality of those hotspots. If you are talking about the enterprise market — would you really do your work in a pub or in a Macdonalds? If not then you can probably knock about 2,000 off the numbers they give you. We have 9,000 locations that can really be used by business users.”

    Orange approach

    Away from such wranglings, Phillipe Bernard, vp Orange Business Solutions takes, as you might expect, a more strategic view. For him the important thing is that enterprise offers higher growth opportunities than the mass market.

    “At the moment its at around 25% penetration rates in terms of people within an enterprise who are equipped by their employer. So that is a huge opportunity for specific enterprise solutions. In 2004 the market saw 7% growth versus a 4% growth in the mass market,” he points out.

    Having established the opportunity, he says that at a top level the enterprise market is “about providing a solutions delivery beyond just the voice minutes bundle”.

    Like T-Mobile, and indeed all the major operators, Orange has a data card solution aimed at providing a mobile office environment, and this is its major focus. to back this up Orange will use France Telecom’s fixed and WLAN properties in France, and the capability of its Equant business to provide VPNs, whilst partnering with WiFi providers in other territories. Bernard disputes that not owning all the hotspots Orange’s users may visit will necessarily lessen the service the operator can provide.

    But its second priority is in delivering the benefits of machine to machine (M2M) to his enterprise customers. All told, he thinks he can grow Orange data solutions business by 100% year on year.

    “The important thing about mobile enterprise is not just what it can do for the operators but that it can develop new business concepts for the enterprises themselves. In this way Orange can be viewed as a strategic actor and not just a service provider,” he says.