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Small steps mark big progress for wireless messaging

At iWireless World, a panel of industry observers says that companies are finally accepting limited usage of wireless messaging, but that will open the floodgates for many new and innovative wireless technologies in the enterprise.

LOS ANGELES -- Wireless messaging is finally being accepted as an enterprise tool. Today, most messaging is conducted with simple text, but over time enterprise messaging will advance dramatically, according a panel at iWireless World and Wireless Developer '03.

Companies are starting to integrate wireless messaging with their business processes, but that is only the first step, said Ananth Rao, executive vice president with Dallas-based wireless middleware provider JP Mobile Inc.

A number of companies are beginning to use text messaging via cell phones to communicate with employees in the field, and executives are comfortable checking e-mail on Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and with their laptops. Others use handheld devices to view and manipulate forms.

"There is only so much that enterprises can do with text," said Michael Polak, telecommunications marketing director with Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet security provider Verisign Inc. Text-based wireless applications are simply extensions of existing enterprise applications and may not make the best use of wireless technology, he said. Typing can be labor intensive and awkward. Screens today are small and often have low resolution.

But change is on the horizon. Consumers are beginning to use multimedia messaging service (MMS), a type of wireless messaging that allows them to photograph and send digital images from a wireless phone to another phone or to a computer.

This approach to messaging is likely to gain some interest in the enterprise, Rao said. For example, an insurance adjuster could take a photograph of a damaged vehicle with a picture phone and file that image along with his report, speeding up the claims process.

On the slightly seedier side, escort services in Asia are already using multimedia messaging to send images of escorts to potential customers, said Steve Owen, vice president of LogicaCMG, a London-based provider of messaging services to wireless carriers.

Image messaging is likely to be accepted by both businesses and consumers because it is a more natural way to communicate, said Martin Fichter, vice president of product management and engineering for a division of Munich, Germany-based Siemens AG.

Humans, he said, have only been typing for a hundred years, but we have been seeing and listening for most of our existence as a species. Images and sound are a more intuitive way to communicate, and they will help drive adoption, he said.

Presence-based applications will also change the way that business people communicate. It is taking root on the desktop, and it is already a hit with some wireless users, Fichter said. Companies such as Nextel already utilize presence in simple ways. Nextel's push-to-talk technology, for example, enables wireless handsets to be used as two-way radios.

The technology is also beginning to show up in a more sophisticated form. Nokia and other wireless device makers have already begun to build IM clients into wireless devices, Owen said.

Eventually, unified messaging will gain a toehold as well, Owen said, because as wireless messaging usage grows in the enterprise, many individuals will end up using numerous devices and multiple messaging accounts. Users are no longer willing to put up with the inconvenience, and they want to consolidate their messaging services, he said.

While wireless messaging today is simple and just beginning to break into the enterprise, it will only be a matter of a few years before it becomes varied and sophisticated enough to make its value obvious to many businesses, Owen said.


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