Freedom to Roam

by Eva

“Do you have a Palm?” asked the marketer hopefully, eager to demonstrate
the new thin client software touted on the colorful banner behind him.

“How ’bout a cell phone?” asked one intrepid Web broadcaster, snapping
open his Motorola TalkAbout. The marketer looked stricken, but quickly
recovered. Putting his best foot forward, he aimed the miniature display
of his own PalmVII at the throng. A couple of techies lingered, but most
of the Web producers, trade reporters, and assorted industry geeks gathered
at the New York New Media Association’s monthly cyber-event shrugged and
headed inside, where the guarantee of free food and booze seemed to outweigh
the uncertain promise of the tiny screen.

The marketer’s dilemma — the pressure to sell applications to a
market in which no single form factor or standard exists — neatly
sums up the state of the wireless industry today. “A lot of companies
are promoting wireless B2B applications they don’t even have in beta yet,”
says David Bilotti, senior marketing communications director at Wireless
Knowledge LLC in San Diego, a two-year-old joint venture between Microsoft
and Qualcomm Inc. As a result, he says, the products being offered may
not work, let alone be available when promised.

Smart technology executives are taking a wait-and-see approach as operating
systems and devices become more sophisticated on a global scale. In the
meantime, they’re scouting out trends, analyzing needs, and judiciously
tweaking corporate infrastructure as they wait for the sure winners that
would justify their increased expense.

Sitting on the Fence

“I don’t think that any executive could say with certainty which platform
is strong enough to allow big investments yet,” says Franck Sidon, an
executive director with Goldman Sachs, in London. Today, most corporate
rollouts are tactical, he says, providing e-mail access for example, but
not yet fully supporting the mobilized strategic deployment of the virtual

Yes, wireless offers the freedom to roam, albeit within a limited area,
says Colin Auld, the IT facilities manager at Alenia Marconi Systems in
Edinburgh. His division simulates, for training purposes, a complete nuclear
power station, aircraft, ship, or train right down to small maintenance
trainers. The fidelity of these systems depends on hairline accuracy,
from engineering design to scenario generation to procedure — and
that means full deployment won’t be possible until security and data synchronization
can be assured.

In some cases, user demand is not significant enough to warrant large
investments. “Our marketplace just isn’t ready for it yet,” says Uday
Shankar, chief technology officer at New York-based The Equavant Group,
an online marketplace designed to centralize the trading of bank loans
for Wall Street traders and other market makers. His company, which deals
in sensitive financial information and information-rich content, faces
two major challenges: security, which is less advanced on wireless than
on PC-centric platforms, and the daunting task of translating the typical
Wall Street war room — a bank of trading screens and newswires —
onto a 1-inch cell-phone monitor or other handheld device.

It’s only a matter of time before pervasive comput