Waiting for wireless

It seems after all the hype of wireless, we are still waiting for a real business case.

commentary It seems after all the hype of wireless, we are still waiting for a real business case.

I have never been a fan of personal digital assistants. I remember when the first models came out -- they were slim, grey, and flipped up like the old Donkey Kong game... but they weren't as much fun. My sister and father quickly added PDAs to their Christmas lists and they both updated their contacts, birthdays, and calendars religiously. I gave the devices a try and thought they were fun to play with for about five minutes and then the novelty wore off -- but back then I barely remembered to eat breakfast, let alone felt a need to keep track of my friends addresses or how I spent my day. For me, computers were for games, and the earlier models didn't come with any installed.

For all of the airplay given to wireless, it has still yet to really take off.
Of course a lot has happened in PDA devices since then, they are a lot snazzier now (yet still not as snazzy as the orange Donkey Kong console in my opinion), the operating systems are more sophisticated, and they come with a wide variety of applications. And, of course, not only are games included but you can also download many more games from the Internet.

However, I have changed a bit in those years as well. I am busier than I have ever been and now need to keep better track of my time. So when the chance came to review a PDA I jumped at it, thinking I was finally ready for such a device.

It was slimline, charcoal, and it looked great. I synchronised it to my PC, transferring e-mail, tasks, and calendar notes. I opened up various menus and then after about 10 mintues realised that I didn't really have much else to do on it. So it sat on my desk, sitting pretty in its dock all day. After a week of carrying it around I was surprised (and disappointed) to find that it really wasn't all that useful -- the main benefit was always having a copy of my calendar with me (and the games of course). But I realised that the device was fairly useless to me unless I could access the applications I use the most at work. One of those is e-mail, but like many companies, we haven't yet enabled corporate applications for wireless use.

This made me realise two things: first, people are paying a lot of money to simply carry an electronic calendar around, and second, use of wireless technology really is in its infancy.

For all the airplay given to wireless over the last couple of years, it has still yet to really take off. Sure, hotspots are popping up all over the place, but the business value of being able to access e-mail or the Internet while waiting for a coffee is minimal. In fact, the use of wireless technologies by organisations still has a long way to go.

However, we could be on the cusp of change. META predicts that 65 percent of companies will deploy at least one wireless application by 2007, with e-mail being the most likely starting choice. In fact, the research company says in the next three years 50 percent of organisations will enable wireless e-mail, which will just be the beginning of wireless deployments.

Our cover story in the December issue of Technology & Business magazine focuses on where wireless technology is heading. It is true that we really are only at the beginning, in fact one of the most talked about wireless technologies of the moment, WiMAX, won't even be commercially available for three years. In our feature, starting on page 58, we take a closer look at the Australian market and examine the latest wireless technologies, such as WiMAX and Ultra Wide Band.

Another much talked about technology to keep an eye on is Information Lifecycle Management, although it is more of a philosophy than a technology. After a whole lot of hype, storage vendors are making money just explaining to customers what ILM actually is -- sounds like some successful marketing to me.

At the moment it sounds about as useful as a PDA without wireless access to business applications. But who knows, maybe this time next year a PDA will be on my Christmas wishlist too. Enjoy the holidays.

Natalie Hambly is Editor of Technology & Business. Is your company planning to enable wireless access to corporate apps? E-mail edit@zdnet.com.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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