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Capturing Value in the Wireless Enterprise Market

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Despite the delayed deployment of so-called 3G technology in the United States, wireless enterprise applications and e-commerce solutions are now available, generating revenues for their creators and new efficiencies for early adopters. Corporate America can profit from this technology today.

To be sure, interactive-rich media games and videoconferencing by cellphone must await the broad release of 3G, the generic term for broadband wireless access, which promises cable-modem-like speed. In Tokyo, NTT DoCoMo Inc. has rolled out what it called the world’s first true 3G wireless network, and the company plans to make the technology available across Japan. However, no European or American carrier has announced a launch date for a similar service.

Nevertheless, many applications, from simple messaging to wireless extensions of existing CRM and ERP solutions, do not require high bandwidth to be of value. Data transmission speeds of 28K to 56K are enough to support 2.5G solutions being introduced today. Some applications can perform even at the far slower 14.4K digital cellular rate.

Rich wireless applications will break traditional wire tethers and extend the boundaries of the enterprise. Wireless modems add new utility to laptops. The value of sales-automation software increases when it’s modified to provide an “always on” connection and a simple Web-based user interface. A busy employee can refresh contact histories and synchronize databases on the fly, without ever having to spend time dialing in and downloading.

A few farsighted, tech-savvy businesses have integrated wireless technologies into mission-critical applications since the mid-1980s. This first wave of wireless enterprise applications enabled early adopters  to incorporate wireless capability into the hearts of their basic businesses and operations (e.g., FedEx, UPS, Avis, and Hertz). In the mid- to late 1990s, the second wave enabled companies to provide consumer content wirelessly (e.g., CNET, Yahoo, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity).

The third and newest wireless wave will be characterized by the development of focused end-to-end enterprise solutions that facilitate critical applications. This will be achieved by leveraging already significant IT investments to deliver higher productivity, more sales, and better customer service.

Though the third wave is nascent, its potential is evident. Companies are already deploying such basic applications as messaging and e-mail to improve employee productivity outside the office. OmniSky, Research in Motion (RIM), and GoAmerica, whose services are used by enterprises primarily for messaging and e-mail, all saw their subscriptions rise substantially in 2001. RIM reports that the total number of BlackBerry subscribers on September 1, 2001, was 246,000 — a 50 percent increase in six months. Although the numbers are still small, RIM is capturing some quite high-paying subscribers.

In the U.S. alone, subscribers to such wireless enterprise services are expected to number 26 million by 2005. Growth will be driven by:

  • advances in wireless application development and mobile security;
  • key technology enablers, such as always-on connectivity, higher mobile bandwidth, and location-based services; and
  • increased enterprise comfort with and demand for wireless applications.

Technically skilled, venture-capital-fueled, and B2B oriented, Wireless Application Development (WAD) companies to date have concentrated on discovering, developing, and delivering applications, the exact nature of which may not yet be apparent. Europe already has about 3,000 such firms, most less than two years old and employing fewer than 40 people.

Last year, Booz Allen Hamilton conducted the first major global study of the supply side of the WAD industry — the players themselves. Out of a carefully compiled “Hot 350” companies, 140 were interviewed in the U.K., France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the U.S.

This core of emerging hot companies may hold the key to unlocking the value of mobile data. For established players, the ability to embrace innovation could make the difference between winning and losing in the race to develop “killer apps.” Yet, the report found many leading WAD vendors seem not only to be poor at capitalizing on the inventiveness of their industry, but also to be unwittingly stifling it.

Many firms exhibit behavior that threatens to stifle the young industry at birth: slowness to commit; an unclear position on other WAD players; and lack of focus.

Nevertheless, the wireless industry is forging ahead, investing significantly in applications as well as infrastructure. The always-on  2.5/3G packet-based networks will allow interactive services similar to those available in wired LAN environments. This capability will drive enterprises to adopt 3G data services earlier rather than later.

The value of truly mobile, real-time, higher-bandwidth access to business information is unmistakable, but it will be at least another year or two before the industry is ready to offer end-to-end wireless enterprise solutions. In the meantime, CIOs should consider the potentially significant improvements in sales force productivity, customer service, and supply chain and manufacturing efficiencies that can be realized today.

Carolina Junqueira,
Carolina Junqueira is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in New York. She has worked extensively with several of the leading wireless interests in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Sajai Krishnan,
Sajai Krishnan is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in San Francisco. He has worked with a variety of telecom, wireless, software, and computer firms in the United States and abroad.

Gregor Harter,
Gregor Harter is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in Munich. His work is concentrated in the telecom sector in the United States and Europe.
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