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Mobile and wireless initiatives get real

We can see some parallels between reality TV and the mobile and wireless industries.

We are definitely not fans of the recent spate of so-called "reality shows", which seem to have infected television broadcasting like a virus. Forget about SoBig; reality television has wasted more time than any piece of code created by some closet hacker.

But, now that the oppressive heat of this summer has at last subsided, our creativity has kicked in, and we can see some parallels between reality TV and the mobile and wireless industries. Without too much effort, we can visualize the following IT spin-offs, which might very well find their way onto a television or LCD monitor near you:

Big Brother is Watching 5 -- In an effort to maintain control and eliminate outside interference, the mobile administrators and wireless champions from some of the top companies in North America are locked into a secure and environmentally-protected safe house where they can monitor and control the electronic comings and goings of each of their respective company's mobile systems. Each competitor must control and manage the activities of 50 or more mobile workers, who are scattered throughout the U.S. and involved in various productive and non-productive activities. They are allowed to use various types of encryption and security, but can only drop their firewalls once during the event.

The contestant with the fewest breaches and viruses at the end of each round is allowed to progress to the next level of play. The winner is the administrator who gathers the most points, or survives multiple rounds of corporate downsizing and IT budget slashes. Several twists are thrown into each game, including the use of insecure wireless Hot Spots, notebooks that are "inadvertently" swapped out at airport security checkpoints, and a PDA or two lost in a taxi cab or restaurant.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Factor -- In this show, IT managers and administrators are asked to adopt new technology and integrate new mobile applications into their current enterprise applications. Each week, a new celebrity vendor tries to convince the IT panel to make quick selections and participate in bogus beta test programs, which in reality are veiled sales pitches. To spice things up a bit, the vendors offer up applications that are not quite ready-for-primetime, and are filled with bugs and inconsistencies. Many of these applications are just extensions of current server-based applications, and not really true mobile software. In a bonus round, the IT players are also pressured by executives from the business side to use more and more untested technology in an effort to snag a "Competitive Edge" prize.

Who Wants to Be a Wireless Millionaire -- This is not actually a reality show, but rather a variation of the wildly popular Who Wants to Be an Internet Millionaire, which captured the minds and investment dollars of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. But, instead of being supported by virtual entities, invisible products and thousands of ergonomically correct desk chairs, this series is based on the fact that people actually can find concrete business uses for mobile and wireless, and these technologies do tie quite nicely into the Internet.

The problem, though, is that many of the applications based on mobile and wireless target the fickle consumer market, and can be relatively expensive when you add in monthly fees and wireless airtime. There are also reliability, security and ROI issues to consider when you focus on the business applications of these technologies, not to mention those old bugaboos of the poor battery life and terrible resolution of most mobile systems. But, this program is sure to be a great summer replacement for desktop-based stuff.

Lost in Paradise Hotel -- IT contestants in this show are let loose in a luxury urban oasis (conveniently located next door to a convention center, a per-diem friendly restaurant and an easy drive from a large airport) and are equipped with wireless-enabled handhelds, some with 802.11 access capabilities and others with cellular connection capabilities. The goal is to first sniff out a strong and reliable wireless signal, download a variety of multimedia-rich and text-based data, and then pass it along to a panel of celebrity customers who are scattered throughout the property.

Difficulties include poor signal quality, malfunctioning and insecure wireless access points, and a variety of adverse lighting conditions. Also, at least one of the competitors will be given a handheld or notebook with built-in Bluetooth communications capabilities. The twist, however, is that there are few Bluetooth-enabled devices available in the resort. At least one contestant will also be forced to use Graffiti handwriting input as the unit's mini-keyboard is designed to malfunction at some point.

The Real Corporate World -- In this show, contestants are mobile and wireless workers within a single building or corporate campus. They must accomplish a variety of tasks throughout a typical business day, including attending meetings, retrieving files, accessing sensitive and non-sensitive data, and synchronizing mobile calendars with other users via the Internet. The catch is that these contestants only return to their desks three times per eight-hour round (actually 4.5, when you take into consideration coffee breaks, lunch, water-cooler chat time, and bathroom breaks), and can spend only 15 minutes at their desks per visit.

The twist thrown into the challenge is the presence of at least one rogue access point within the company, which can be used to infect a contestant's mobile system with a crippling virus. Also, should a contestant enter an unauthorized space, the installed location-aware technology will immediately disable the mobile device and eliminate the contestant from the competition. The prize for the winner is not a million dollars, but job security -- at least until management discovers that mobile ROI does not lie in the device or the strength of the wireless signal, but in how well a contestant uses mobile technology and tools.

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

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