While Wi-Fi is one of the fastest growing enterprise IT markets, wide area mobility is another matter. A recent brief by International Data Corp. (IDC) identified 10 up and coming mobile startups, and just three of them target business customers.
"The consumer wireless data market has simply taken off faster," said Scott Ellison, program director for wireless and mobile communications at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. "There has been more financial investment there." The seven consumer-oriented startups in his report are mostly engaged in mobile marketing, entertainment, community building and mobile payments.
In his brief titled "10 Emerging Wireless Players to Watch in 2005," Ellison identified three business-oriented vendors that he deemed destined for success, or at least acquisition:
- San Jose, Calif.-based Ascendent Systems provides a sophisticated messaging service that unifies either traditional PBXs or IP PBXs with cell phones and Wi-Fi phones. When someone makes a call, all of the individual's various phones ring at once, speeding up the laborious process of call forwarding that can occur with many voice systems.
- MindWireless Inc., in Houston, helps companies parse their increasingly complex wireless bills, helping them land the best deal with the most appropriate carrier or carriers.
- Connexion by Boeing, an in-flight wireless service that extends the working range of cell phones, enabling business travelers to work online in-flight. The service is available on a half dozen Lufthansa flights and will be available on more airlines next year.
Business use of wireless data has been stalled for several years, Ellison said, as many similar startups have come and gone, and financially strapped businesses were unwilling to take risks on new technology.
In addition, businesses have found themselves unimpressed with the coverage and slow speed of wireless networks. "We are getting the equivalent of dialup via wireless," Ellison said.
But IT vendors are increasingly turning their attention to mobility. Motorola, for example, now offers a phone that can connect to both cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks.
Other companies are beginning to tackle the complex issues of allowing mobile users access to data behind the corporate firewall, said Craig Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, a research firm in Ashland, Mass.
"There is a lot of pent up demand," Mathias said.
Carriers are also upgrading their networks. Next year, Verizon will launch its high speed third-generation wireless network. That will soon be followed by upgrades from Cingular and Sprint, ensuring more options for high speed wireless connectivity. Wireless data will simply be easier to use and may finally add to productivity.
"In the next two years, you will have wireless broadband everywhere you go," Ellison said.