Few people think about what happens behind the wireless curtain when they answer a call on their cellular phone, or hit the send button after they dial a business associate or call to order a pizza while sitting in traffic on the way home from work. The only time people take an active interest in their wireless service is when they cannot place a call, the wireless signal suddenly drops, or when the bill arrives like clockwork each month to remind them just how much keeping in constant touch really costs.
What happens behind the scene is, in fact, very important to the current state of wireless, and such things as service reliability and dependability -- especially as data traffic increases in both the consumer and business segments. Unfortunately, such things as system architecture, optimization technology and acceleration engines are not the stuff that you will slickly packaged and promoted as part of the multi-million advertising campaigns sponsored by the top cellular service providers.
Most consumers, right now, select their wireless phones and services based on price. Businesses throw such things as service, support and reliability into the mix, but in the end their selection criterion also comes down to price since there are fewer and fewer differentiators between the top wireless carriers. They all offer cool phones, multimedia services, Internet access, instant messaging, and higher-speed services.
This will change, however, as wireless price wars continue, service plans prices drop, and the carriers stop trying to tie us into lifetime membership plans. We will also see a dramatic shift in the way users select wireless carriers as we start looking under the hood to examine such things as bandwidth capabilities, security infrastructures and abilities to handle mobile applications and data for the business client.
So, what should the wireless-savvy user be looking for in a wireless carrier? We were a bit curious ourselves, so we asked our friends at Bytemobile, Inc., a Mountain View, Calif. company that specializes in wireless optimization technologies and currently works with such wireless heavyweights as VodaPhone and Orange UK. and Sprint.
At first, we were a bit skeptical of the company, perhaps because of its name conjured up images of Batman and car. But we were quickly convinced the company is a valuable player in the cellular wireless space after spending some time on the phone discussing what's important and what is not when it comes to enterprise mobility.
Here are a few of the under-the-hood things the experts there think are important:
- The key to reliable and successful wireless services does not necessarily lie in the sheer speed of the network, but does depend on the smooth interaction of such things as optimization, data acceleration and network connectivity. It is especially helpful if you throw in a bit of IP packet networking and heavy doses of enterprise-level end-to-end security as well.
- Network optimization and compression technologies are important, since wireless carriers are limited by their spectrum assignments and capacities to handled data flow. In short, the pipeline can only handle so much information at one time, so the trick is to squeeze as much of that data as possible with each transmission. Just as synchronization technologies are important in the handheld computer space, optimization and compression technologies are perhaps the most important elements of a data-carrying wireless system.
- Higher speed networks are critical, when it comes to multimedia-rich data and information. This is why most wireless carriers worth their salt have already implemented 2.5G systems, and are working toward that Holy Grail of 3G system nirvana. However, while 2.5G systems work even better when optimization is applied, GPRS systems are really not adequate unless they are supplemented with some kind of optimization, says Bytemobile executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing Steve Livingston.
- In the land of the blind, the one-eyed person is king. And in the world of the enterprise, it is the wireless carrier who offers remote access to such business standards as Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, or Lotus Notes systems that rules. That's just the way it is, regardless of what you think of Bill Gates and the Lotus juggernaut. One way to do this is to borrow a tactic from Research in Motion, Inc. and the Blackberry world and spool the messages churned through a Microsoft Exchange server, and then selectively retrieve those the user has pre-determined as being important.
The average enterprise professional works about one to two hours away from the office each day, and more mobile professionals are relying on hotel and airport wireless hot spots to access their e-mail, send messages and communicate with the central information resource. So, it is critical that a business select a wireless carrier that has some sort of partnership with a third-party vendor that can provide the necessary and secure access to these resources.
- While remote access is important, sending and receiving the data quickly and efficiently is even more of an issue. Studies show that most mobile users become a bit miffed when they have to wait more than 20 seconds or so for Web pages to build on a desktop environment, and have a time tolerance of about 10 seconds on a mobile device. And, we all know that most customers won't wait that long for an answer to a product query or invoice update. So, things like dynamic interleaving are critical, especially when extended to 802.11 wireless LANs that are being used from your local Starbucks or Verizon wireless kiosk.
- In order to appeal to the security-minded enterprise customer, wireless technology services must play well with individual virtual private networks, or VPNs. This can be difficult from a carrier standpoint, so one of the best solutions is to install an optimization and compression client behind the corporate VPN, which works in tandem with the services offered through your favorite wireless carrier. These systems should also be compatible with VPN tunneling techniques, and be sensitive to the MAPI issues of most e-mail systems.
Okay, by now you have probably figured out that Bytemobile offers all of these capabilities and more through its technologies and products. Otherwise, why would company executives be providing the above information to build a checklist for enterprise wireless productivity? The company has even developed its own proprietary Macara Dynamic Optimization Technology, which is designed to jump-start last- and first-mile performance by classification, data reduction, and protocol acceleration.
The results are impressive, especially when you look at detailed graphics files that have been reduced from 10M bytes to 135K bytes, and still look as crisp and clean as wired broadband transmissions. (You can check the results out at www.bytemobile.com/html/technology.html.)
The company presently partners with such Net-knowledgeable companies as Sun Microsystems, and has attracted a great deal of investment money from wireless handset makers like Ericsson, which turned to the company fro help in squeezing every little bit of productivity out of GSM wireless networks in Europe. Other customers include Vodafone UK, Nextel Communications, Orange UK and Sprint.
In fact, the company is on target to providing optimization technology, on the client-side, to roughly 90 percent of the wireless networks in Europe, and is getting ready to test a 3G optimization engine and technology with a leading wireless service provider in Japan.
So, what's not to like about Bytemobile? Well, the company admits that it still does have a lot of work to do in terms of enhancing and improving its optimization technology. But that's a good thing. We'd be more concerned if executives there issued a statement saying their work was done and research and development had ended. The enterprise version of its Optimization Service Node (OSN) technology is just now going commercial, and is only installed in one or two large corporate beta sites at the moment. So, we have yet to learn if things have gone extremely well, or there is still a long road ahead in terms of satisfying the corporate client.
We have a feeling, however, that Bytemobile will be successful as it extends its technology into the business segment, since it has already proven to increased productivity, reliability, and save money in the consumer space. We've asked the company to keep us posted on developments, and will report developments back to you as they happen.
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.