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Retrieving information using a remote PC, via GSM/GPRS

The members of my sales department travel quite often. Is there any way to provide access via GSM/GPRS mobile phones to important information such as item stock numbers, rates, item position and so on? Can they retrieve information using a remote PC through the GSM/GPRS mobile network?
Although cell phones are still primarily used for voice transmission, as opposed to data traffic, an increasing number of companies are looking to mobile phones to provide a vital link to their remote workforces -- especially as these phones become more data-centric, and the wireless carriers continue to evolve faster services that provide quick access to both text- and graphics-based information. Essentially, anything that is available via the Internet can be reformatted and directed to a data-capable cell phone over standard and higher-speed wireless networks. In fact, the ubiquitous Research in Motion Blackberry family of devices -- which have become de rigueur in the financial industries -- zap messages and other data from servers to remote devices via cellular networks. These networks act as pipelines, which can support a variety of information.

In terms of providing access to the key information that lurks within a company's files, however, the secret sauce lies in both the database and synchronization software that usually exists on the server side with some thin client pieces installed on the mobile devices to coordinate handshaking, security and final presentation of the information. There are lots of companies that provide really good third-party software that is designed...

to open small windows into a central data base, channel information to a variety of different mobile devices, and then provide synchronization techniques that allows remote users to update information on the server side.

Some of these solutions work through a dedicated system attached to an enterprise server and protected by a firewall, and can be used to synchronize data on remote devices. Others work through the Internet and third-part services and applications that provide synchronization and update procedures -- although many companies view this as a less secure tactics than firewall-protected systems.

Most multimedia-enabled phones these days, and certainly so-called "smart phones" offer some kind of standard synchronization software that lets you channel information -- like contact updates, e-mail and even sales order info -- between your mobile phones and host PCs. The wireless carriers are also working with a number of synchronization and mobile applications development companies to offer enterprise-class services as part of their standard business billing platform. So, the first step might be to check with your service provider to see what business services are on their wireless menu.

This was first published in April 2004

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