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3G makes little headway in biz community

While high-speed mobile services have struck a chord with consumers, the lack of 3G business applications and devices is hampering enterprise adoption.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

Consumers are getting hyped over 3G (Third-Generation) mobile services, but the lack of business applications has put a damper on adoption of the cellular technology amongst enterprises.

According to Manoj Menon, partner and managing director of Frost & Sullivan Southeast Asia, it would take "some time" before companies start to embrace 3G services.

He noted that this is due to several factors, such as the small number of 3G devices and enterprise applications available in the market, and issues over device security and management.

With 3G--or any enterprise mobility initiative--businesses now have to manage new devices owned by individuals, while ensuring the security of corporate data on those devices, Menon noted.

And the "limited availability" of 3G business applications is not helping to increase the technology's user base among corporate types either, Menon said.

Andrew Namboka, chief technologist for enterprise solutions at Nokia Asia-Pacific, noted that many software vendors are now building mobile extensions for enterprise applications such as CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning), that were developed for wired infrastructures.

These mobile extensions, however, are not optimized for mobile access, Namboka said.

"These are thinned-down versions of the fixed world applications," he said. "It is more than just providing Web access to the application."

According to Namboka, there has been a concerted industry effort to build business applications that meet the needs and challenges of the mobility world.

"The needs and challenges of mobility for enterprise applications include the [user's requirement for] small form factor of devices, connectivity options, security, and the development of applications with the mobile user 'work style' in mind," he explained.

Mobile applications should tout features that enhance productivity for telecommuters, Namboka said. Such features could be user presence information, instant messaging, integration with push e-mail and enhancements that accelerate workflows, he added.

Frost's Menon said companies must review and change their business processes before they embark on 3G. For instance, if 3G video calls are to be implemented in customer support, a chain of work processes have to be altered, he said.

So, will video calls be the "killer" application that could lure companies to deploy 3G? Menon was not prepared to make a prediction: "There is no answer right now, because people will not make video calls for the sake of it."

If 3G does indeed turn out to be a killer app, then applications that support video capabilities could provide the value that businesses seek, he said.

Notwithstanding, the analyst sees collaboration and conferencing as the "next wave of growth" in 3G services. Although common mobile applications such as push e-mail can be delivered over slower GPRS (general packet radio services) networks, Menon noted that multiparty collaboration would require the fatter pipes which 3G can support.

For example, business users can conduct meetings on the road, complete with video, voice and "white board" illustrations, through Internet Protocol (IP) multimedia subsystems (IMS)--a next-generation network architecture that sits on top of 3G networks.

Analyst firm Informa Telecoms and Media noted recently that investments in IMS are set to reach more than US$4 billion. By 2011, 188 million users are predicted to subscribe to IMS-enabled services, such as push-to-talk over cellular and instant messaging platforms.

Pushing 3G higher
For 3G to be successful among enterprises, Menon noted that an ecosystem made up of service providers, software vendors, handset makers and systems integrators (SIs) must be in place.

"The telcos can work with the software vendors to provide 3G applications to small and midsize businesses, while the large SIs like IBM and Hewlett-Packard can service the large enterprises," he said. "Whether it's 2G or 3G, the industry has to make the right offer to enterprises."

According to Menon, Nextel in North America and Korea's SK Telecom have successfully marketed logistics and fleet management mobile applications to enterprises. This was mainly possible through alliances and partner programs that create ecosystems encompassing software vendors and systems integrators, he noted.

"Enterprise mobility was a huge topic of discussion in 2004, and since then, several large organizations have gone ahead to implement projects on a limited basis," he said. "By 2008, we should see Fortune 500 companies embrace enterprise mobility and take advantage of the power of 3G networks."

Menon said: "Companies are taking a step by step, and not a big bang, approach to mobility.

"They have not recovered from the investments lost when the dot-com bubble burst," he said, adding that 3G users will only make up 12 percent of all mobile subscribers by 2008.

Michael Yin, CEO of Singapore-based mobility software company Mozat, said many enterprises still do not see the need for 3G services as access speeds, at 384kbps, are not a lot higher than GPRS speeds of 114kbps.

"The 3G value chain is not connected right now," he said. "The right [mobility] applications are not there, there are not a lot of 3G devices and the price [of services] is not right."

According to Menon, however, unlimited 3G data plans might just bump up adoption rates of the technology. "Although access speeds of 3G may not be that great compared to high-speed [wired] broadband, unlimited plans are key growth drivers."

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