Special Report: Mobile Computing Towards 2012

By Thomas Hoffman


With 4G communication services such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax just around the corner, the future of mobile computing looks bright for would-be corporate customers.


Over the next three-to-five years, improvements in network speeds and reliability as well as further enhancements to device features and the maturation of the mobile applications market will provide white and blue collar workers alike with greater mobile computing options from an ever-widening number of locations.


"From a CIO perspective, you're going to see the carriers come out with a lot more apps and services built around mobility," says Daryl Schoolar, an analyst at In-Stat in Phoenix.


CIOZone interviewed a dozen CIOs, analysts and product managers to get an in-depth look at how the mobile computing market is expected to evolve through 2014. Here's what we found:


4G Communications/LTE


At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona last month, a group of vendors such as Nortel and Orange who are behind the so-called LTE SAE Trial Initiative announced the results of their Proof of Concept test phase. More than 80 areas of wireless network performance were gathered and measured from eight vendors involved in the initiative, including Voice over IP capabilities as well as data upload and download speeds.


Although LTE testing has yielded promising results, including the ability for end users to run streaming video applications even during peak network congestion, the service is "not coming as fast as people may think" to North America, says Jack Gold, president of J. Gold Associates, LLC, a Northborough, MA-based technology analyst firm. Gold expects LTE will be delivered to just a handful of U.S. markets this year and won't be broadly deployed until at least 2012.


CIOs should also expect to see laptops equipped with built-in modems capable of handling faster LTE network speeds, says Schoolar. And while Blackberries, iPhones and other Smartphone devices won't necessarily run faster, says Schoolar, "they'll have more capacity" for downloading and operating mobile applications.


What this means is that within five years, it's altogether likely that Blackberry users could have devices equipped with Web cams that allow them to participate in videoconferences while they're on the road, says Schoolar.


But faster wireless networks will likely raise concerns for CIOs about how more ubiquitous data downloading via Blackberries and other mobile devices may become a big expense for their organizations, says Gold. "One of the compelling reasons why cable modems and DSL became so popular is that it's an 'All-You-Can-Eat' model where you can download as much as you want," notes Gold.


But when it comes to wireless networks, the potential for thousands or even millions of people downloading data at one time raises serious network congestion concerns, says Gold. As a result, if wireless network carriers make the pricing too attractive, says Gold, "too many people will be downloading data at any one time and stressing their networks."


Of course, big companies with thousands of mobile users such as Bank of America will have the leverage with carriers to lower downloading costs for individual users, he adds.


Next: WiMax for 100 million people by 2010

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Although WiMax networks being built together by Clearwire and Sprint are predominantly aimed at providing wireless coverage to residents and consumers in different cities, the networks can also provide additional coverage to corporate users in those areas. Through its partnership, Clearwire and Sprint rolled out WiMax service to Baltimore in January with a similar plan for Portland, Ore. in April, says Tim Donahue, vice president of marketing at Sprint. Although the two companies haven't yet identified other cities, the goal is to provide WiMax coverage to 40 million-to-60 million U.S. residents by the end of 2009 and 100 million people by late 2010, says Donahue.




Smartphones will continue to see improvements in features and functionality over the next few years, including higher-resolution screens and increased power for running enterprise applications, says Schoolar.


But these changes will also bring additional device and application management challenges to CIOs, says Gold. "For companies to run mobile applications like an SAP or Salesforce.com, CIOs are going to have to look at these applications as needing to run on a variety of different platforms for devices that start as relatively dumb to those running Linux and Windows in three years," says Gold.


In some cases, the simplest path for CIOs will be to skip application downloads and instead utilize Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud computing models to connect end users with enterprise mobile applications, Gold adds. "The networks will have to be reliable enough to support SaaS, but we'll get to that in the next few years," Gold says.


Virtualization will also filter down into the smartphone space over the next two-to-three years, predicts Gold. That will enable IT departments to separate Joe's Facebook account when his smartphone is syncing up with the company's Microsoft Exchange system, says Gold. "You'll be able to separate the corporate Joe from the individual Joe," says Gold.


Next: Notebooks Aimed at Verticals

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Although some CIOs and industry observers question the value and adoption rate of netbooks in corporate computing, Schoolar expects to see more types of netbooks introduced over the next few years, including some that have some vertical industry applications pre-loaded onto them. "They have good battery life and they're easy to carry around," notes Schoolar. "You might see more videoconferencing-type capabilities and video streaming." "The concern with netbooks is that people are buying them thinking they're a full-fledged notebook PC and they're really scaled down, they're not intended to be your daily PC you're doing all your work on," says Steve Weinger, flash marketing manager at Samsung Semiconductor in San Jose.


Asset Management


To date, most corporate IT departments "have done abysmal jobs" of tracking their mobile computing assets, says Gold. This includes identifying end users with the devices they're using, monitoring the software applications loaded on them and tracking and maintaining mobile device licensing agreements, says Gold.


With an even greater array of mobile devices about to hit the market, CIOs will have to do a much better job of managing these assets, says Gold. He expects to see more asset management-type products such as Intel's vPro software made available over the next two years to help IT departments to monitor device and software usage. In addition, Gold expects to see security vendors develop something akin to "LoJack Lite" capabilities where IT staffers will be able to track an end user's mobile device using its BIOS. For instance, if Joe doesn't log into his mobile device within, say, eight hours, the device will be pre-set to lock up to prevent thieves or hackers from accessing its contents, says Gold.




While there's already different levels of security available for mobile devices today, including two-factor user authentication tokens which can be used for Blackberries and other PDAs, security technologies for mobile devices will become much more prevalent in the next few years for corporate customers, says Gold. Forthcoming security capabilities will include smart cards and secure ID cards used to authenticate individual users with the corporate VPNs they're trying to connect through. Biometric ID cards and GPS systems will also be used to identify and authenticate users, he says.


Next: Leave Your Wallet Behind

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Secure Payments


Over the next two years, most mobile phones being manufactured will be equipped to function as payment devices.

ViVOtech, Inc., a Santa Clara, CA-based technology company whose contactless payment technologies are used by Yellow Cabs in New York, is working with business partners including Nokia, Samsung, LG, and Motorola to develop and implement contactless NFC payment technology that will be built into new phones being manufactured later this year. New payment technology being built into the phones will include new Radio Frequency (RF) and NFC hardware, says Mohammad Khan, president and founder of ViVOtech.

The company is working with Citibank and MasterCard to launch a rollout of a wireless payment network in Bangalore in late March, says Khan. ViVOtech is planning a limited commercial rollout of the secured payment service in the U.S. for 50,000 to 100,000 mobile phones in 2010 before the service is extended to "tens of millions of phones" in 2011 and 2012, says Khan.


"The idea of being able to use a phone as a payment device has tremendous value for retailers and consumer packaged goods companies," says Cathy Hotka, principal of Cathy Hotka & Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based retail consultant and former vice president of IT at the National Retail Federation. But even though the concept is appealing, retailers still have concerns about support requirements for a large number of devices as well as the type of encryption to be used, says Hotka.


Battery Life


Having a mobile device with extended battery power is critical not just for consumers but for service technicians, medical professionals and other workers who use tablets and ruggedized devices to help them do their jobs. "We're getting beyond shift-life (eight-to-ten hour) battery power today," says Brian Viscount, vice president of product management in the mobile computing division of Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business. Companies such as Motorola are also making mobile battery packs more intelligent.


It can be expensive for CIOs to take a mobile device out of service to replace a battery, particularly for devices that are used by field service technicians like utility workers, says Viscount. Motorola now offers a software package called Mobility Service Platform which allows corporate customers like Baylor Health to see the number of recharge cycles left on each device and then schedule service around that, says Viscount.


Next: A Peek Into Future Mobile Applications


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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of CIOZone.com and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and About.com.