Editor's Corner

IT managers struggle with wireless fragmentation
I was in Palm Springs earlier this week for Frost & Sullivan's Mobile & Wireless Enterprise conference. I spent a lot of time mingling with IT managers from around the country and I heard a litany of complaints about the challenges they still face when trying to outfit their employees with wireless devices and streamlined applications.

I guess I was naive. I thought the situation had improved. Wireless carriers certainly tout their progress in the enterprise space. In fact, Verizon Wireless, in third quarter 2006, said that one-third of its wireless data revenue came from business applications, including business messaging and 1xEV-DO access.

The revenue numbers may be growing but so is the frustration level. Tim Ma, project engineer, biomedical information services at the American Red Cross, told me he's looking for a wireless carrier that can provide 100 percent coverage across the U.S. so that the Red Cross can send data from its mobile sites to the firm's headquarters. The company wants to streamline the way it transmits blood collection statistics that it receives from around the country. So far, not a single operator can come up with a solution that provides 100 percent coverage. For Ma and the Red Cross, 95 percent coverage just won't do. And filling in the coverage gaps with satellite is a costly alternative that doesn't provide the bandwidth that Ma needs.

On the international front, enterprise IT managers bemoaned the difficulties of finding a streamlined solution for their employees that travel worldwide. Nils Weber, head of connectivity/collaboration architecture and strategy at Novartis Pharma AG, says that outfitting employees with multiple aircards so they can use one wireless broadband service in the U.S. and another in Europe is confusing. And when it comes to handsets, Weber says that even if he provides some of his executives with a world phone that allows them to roam worldwide and make phone calls, the solutions are extremely costly because there is no way to control the roaming fees.

Although device makers have debuted a lot of very sophisticated enterprise-oriented devices such as the Motorola Q, many IT managers say that they still prefer RIM's Blackberry device because the Blackberry is simple for employees to use and relatively glitch-free. When you're an IT manager supporting thousands of employees worldwide, glitch-free is very appealing because it means fewer customer support calls and happier employees.

If the sample of IT managers that I spoke with this week is any indication of a broader trend nationwide, I'd say that wireless operators, device makers and enterprise application providers need to figure out a way to streamline their enterprise solutions and help IT managers better manage their services. The rewards could be great--enterprises are less likely to churn and more likely to generate higher ARPU. The challenge is to find the right solution. -Sue