The Future of Enterprise Mobility: Seven Predictions

In 2008, businesses can expect to see the opening of cellular networks, the start of global radio frequency (RF) technology convergence and a growing mobile security threat, as well as more dropped cellular phone calls and poorer call quality, among other trends.

One key word in the wireless space in 2008—and the coming few years—will be open. Open networks. Open platforms. Open devices. All of which will have far-reaching implications on businesses, their IT departments and the employees they support.

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What follows is a list of future enterprise mobility trends from wireless consultant Jorge Fuenzalida of inCode, research firm Osterman Research and technology analysis company Current Analysis.

The Opening of the U.S. Wireless Industry Will Mean Faster Data Speeds, More Bandwidth and New Levels of Service for Enterprises

The main motivation behind U.S. carriers' decisions to open up future networks is to better cater to the consumer masses, but enterprises stand to benefit, as well.

Business users will eventually see speedier data transfer and increased bandwidth for new, innovative business-oriented services that carriers will offer, as well as services from other developers, according to Current Analysis.

Enhancements to such networks will also eventually lead to more reliable wireless access to corporate systems, interactive databases and Web-based apps from a variety of devices. As AT&T rolls out its next-generation high-speed packet access (HSPA) network and Sprint launches its XOHM WiMax network, both consumers and business users will over time see an increase in mobile video and converged services, such as multimedia videoconferencing, Current Analysis says.

Open network access and growing competition in the chipset market will lead mobile device manufacturers to circumvent relationships with carriers in order to build strong connections with end users and businesses over the coming years, says Fuenzalida, inCode vice president of communications consulting. (InCode is a division of IT infrastructure provider VeriSign.)

That means that carriers will need to offer new levels of services and innovative offerings to differentiate themselves from competitors. Enterprises will be able to choose the carriers and levels of service best suited to their needs, and in some cases, they'll be able to purchase priority access. VoIP and other such applications will eventually become more reliable on higher-tier service plans--though the price for such service will likely be costly. Organizations could also select varying levels of service for different staffers who may need more features or who aren't as worried about reliability, according to inCode. Carriers will also be able to offer prices for service that are closer to what it actually costs them to place calls or transfer data so users are not just charged a flat rate, as is the case today.

The Start of True Radio Frequency (RF) Technology Convergence

The coming years will not see a dispute between disparate next-generation RF technologies like HSPA, long-term evolution (LTE) and WiMax, but they will see the beginnings of "global harmonization of RF technology," according to Fuenzalida.

These technologies are in very different states of evolution, Fuenzalida says. For instance, HSPA is mature and is currently employed by more than 10 million wireless users with a wide variety of devices. WiMax is still a very young technology, in its trial stages, and it will likely be at least a year or two before it becomes widely used.

And LTE, which Verizon recently chose as its fourth-generation technology, is in its infancy. InCode predicts it won't be until 2012 that LTE becomes used commercially. But at that point, Fuenzalida says it's likely that wireless users and handset makers will find it in their interest to make their devices operate on LTE. Wireless users will then experience the first full globalization of RF technology. That means mobile workers will then be able to use their in much wider range of areas without carrying multiple devices that operate on the various RF technologies.

Mobile Device Management and Security to Present Challenge

When cellular networks become truly open, it will become increasingly difficult for CIOs and their IT departments to manage and secure mobile devices, as networks locked down by carriers are also secured by carriers.

IT executives will look to their network operators and other vendors to offer security and device management solutions to address the issue, according to inCode. Some two-thirds of organizations consider mobile device management to be a serious or very serious issue, according to Osterman Research.And a recent poll of 200 CIOs and telecommunications directors found that 95 percent of respondents are seeking new ways to manage mobile devices and applications, while 45 percent are looking to carriers for solutions.

In 2008, "a major [smartphone] security incident will raise awareness of and the need for mobile device security," reads an inCode report. "This will therefore create and drive a new market for mobile device security software as well as mobile device management software and services," like Zenprise's automated BlackBerry environment monitoring and issue resolution product.

Security solutions will be another way for carriers to differentiate themselves from competitors. Current Analysis researchers expect that there will be consolidation in the device management and security middleware markets as vendors merge and acquire smaller players or go bankrupt. The demand will spur large companies like EDS, Accenture and IBM to enter the market, to offer their own mobility management and security services, or try to buy out smaller vendors, Current Analysis suggests. Systems integrators and Internet service providers and website hosting companies will also expand their current offerings to address the issues, Current Analysis says.

More Demand for Mobile Enterprise Applications

Though there are clearly dominant players in the mobile e-mail middleware space--namely Microsoft and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM)--the market for mobile middleware for business applications isn't currently owned by any such companies, Current Analysis says.

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That means there's a significant opportunity for carriers and for providers of ERP and CRM applications. Database vendors like Sybase and SAP, as well as small mobile middleware specialists could also capitalize. New improvements in 2008 will include support for existing applications on new platforms like Apple's iPhone and Google Android devices--should they become available in the second half of 2008, as expected--as well as enhancements to applications using location information, Current Analysis says.

Wireless Worlds (Local and Wide-Area) Collide

A growing number of handset manufacturers, including RIM, are offering dual mode cellular/WLAN, or cellular/voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi or VoFi) devices, and more and more carriers are supporting them, according to Current Analysis.

By using devices, business smartphone users can gain flexibility and convenience while on the go and within the office or factory, as well as cost savings, according to research firm In-Stat. In addition to smartphones with such dual mode functionality, a growing number of laptops with embedded Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity are being released. Companies like Cisco and Aruba Networks, both of which were recently named top VoWi-Fi ecosystem vendors by ABI Research, are currently working with carriers to offering multiservice mobility platforms, Current Analysis says.

Quality of Mobile Service Will Continue to Diminish; Demand for Less Feature-Rich Phones Will Increase

For all the progress on data speeds and accessibility, security and management are not the only worries for enterprise IT managers. For the eighth year in a row, the quality of mobile service will disintegrate, according to inCode.

The use of new third-generation (3G) technologies, multiband, multiradio technologies, feature-heavy handsets and outdated roaming options has over the past years depleted mobile service to levels lower than before the introduction of 3G, Fuenzalida says.

The trend will continue as newer technologies are introduced and more and more feature rich devices are used, leading to an increase in disconnected calls, poorer call quality and failed connections. Demand will increase for phones that operate on a single band and that have fewer complex applications to drain battery life as users begin to value reliability over bells and whistles, according to inCode.

Until the wireless space achieves the "full global harmonization" of RF technology mentioned above, and handset makers and application developers have time to work out bugs, service will likely become increasingly poor.

More Employees Will Use Enterprise-Supplied Devices While at Work

A larger percentage of the U.S. workforce is currently using employer-supplied mobile devices like smartphones, PDAs and laptops than ever before, and organizations will only see those numbers grow in 2008, according to Osterman Research. As of midyear 2007, about 15 percent of the North American workforce in mid- to large-size organizations had corporate mobile devices. Over the coming three years, CIOs and their IT teams can expect so see that number double, Osterman says.

Those IT staffers will also see employees equipped with enterprise-issued mobile devices performing more of their in-office work via smartphones or PDAs. Today, Osterman says, approximately 33 percent of the North American workforce performs work duties via mobile devices while in the office, and it expects that figure to grow to just under 50 percent by 2010.

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