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Wireless Applications Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

Conference panel lays out what needs to be done before most mobile programs are ready for widespread implementation.

CHICAGO--The opening keynote at the Mobile Business Expo here Monday disproved one of the major misconceptions in the mobile industry today, which says that wireless applications are here and fully ready for large-scale deployments.

The reality is that before that can happen, several things need to occur, the speakers unanimously agreed. The carriers have to start focusing on business users more, and the industry has to move away from proprietary mobile applications, such as the ones Research In Motion offers for BlackBerry devices, and toward open standard applications that truly extend mobile applications beyond E-mail.

About 50 million mobile workers in the United States spend more than 20% of their time away from their desks, said Mark Lowenstein, managing director at Mobile Ecosystem, a consulting and advisory firm. E-mail is said to be the No. 1 application running on mobile devices among those workers. But there are only about 5 million mobile E-mail users globally, Lowenstein said. This means there is still a lot of opportunity for growth in mobile E-mail and applications like customer-relationship-management, sales-force-automation, and other productivity tools that are still not plug-and-play today.

Open standards will help drive adoption of these applications among businesses, said John Dolan, VP of product management at Oracle. But first, relationships between software companies, device manufacturers, and network operators have to be developed in a realistic way, meaning it has to makes sense for software vendors like Oracle, SAP, and Siebel, which have created an array of field service and field sales applications for PC and laptop users, to also write the same applications for small screen devices like smart phones and PDAs, said Dolan. "When you buy a TV, you expect the remote to come in the box. The same is true for wireless," he said.

To prove the theory true, Oracle plans to roll out a mobile E-mail application that will come ready "out of the box," according to Dolan. The application will let businesses manage unstructured data like E-mail and voice mail from a central repository.

In the meantime, the panel agreed that network operators should focus on monitoring, improving the quality of service, and creating a single billing system that will make it easier for users to manage all of their mobile devices.

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