The way people lose cell phones, you would think they are disposable, and for the consumers who get them gratis for signing service plans offered by the big mobile carriers, that may not be far from the truth.

Of course, if you’re one of more than half a million people who just purchased an iPhone, losing your personal data and iTunes along with your phone comes as painful salt in the wound.

For many business people, however, losing a cell phone or a smart phone loaded with invaluable contacts, calendars, e-mails and client data can be a severe blow to their business lives.

In many cases, this trauma of lost data can be avoided by simply employing one of the many backup and synchronization techniques that run the gamut from linking to a PC via USB cables and client software, to downloads embedded in wireless e-mail and enterprise-level product suites.

The need for backup and sync capabilities becomes clear when you consider the number of lost mobile phones. According to Bill Hughes, principal analyst at In-Stat, “As it is, there will be 8 million phones lost in 2007, including 700,000 smart phones. Any of these, particularly the smart phones, is a corporate data security breach waiting to happen and make headlines.”

Unfortunately, many individuals and businesses don’t consider the ramifications of these losses until it is too late. It may seem hard to believe, but according to Ken Dulaney, vice-president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc., apathy among individual users and the mobile carriers seems to be the primary response to this problem.

“If you lost your phone, you care about it, but most people don’t think about it,” Dulaney claims. “The carriers are going to focus on ring tones, they’re going to focus on e-mail delivery, mobile television, music downloads — stuff that they know appeals to everybody on the entertainment side.”

Mobile marketing mentalities

The mobile carriers may not view the backup/sync business as a cash cow, but according to Jack Deimer, portfolio manager for shared services at Sprint Nextel Corp., they do play a valuable role. “We look at this as a big retention tool,” he says. “It’s not a product per se that we’re trying to make lots of money on; it’s a product we hope will keep customers on the network, and make it easy for them to transfer contacts from one device to the next device.”

Like Deimer, Lee Daniels, vice president of product development at Verizon Wireless, does not expect backup and sync services to be a big revenue producer for his company, but he does see them playing a critical security role. “I think that as more and more data gets put on these phones — especially PDAs and smart phones, which have the capabilities that laptops had just a couple of years ago — companies and individuals will be looking for ways via encryption or locking the device down remotely,” he says.

Enterprise-level services
Deimer says that in addition to selling wireless backup products such as MyAddressBook, Sprint also has its Sprint Mobility Management suite, which includes enterprise-level applications for device management, billing management, security management and customer care.

The device management package offers businesses the ability to manage multicarrier mobile devices via a self-service Web portal. Specifically, it does the following:

— Manages multiple user configurations and profiles.

— Synchronizes data, files and applications.

— Deploys software updates.

— Views software and hardware inventory.

— Backs up and restores files and applications.

— Pushes all these functions out via its over-the-air capability.

According to Daniels, Verizon Wireless caters to both individuals and corporate accounts with its range of backup and sync products. The carrier’s Wireless Sync product provides wireless synchronization of e-mail, calendar contacts and tasks between a desktop PC and a wireless mobile device.

Setting it up is a seven-step process that includes buying the PDA or smart phone, signing up for a national access plan, going to the Wireless Sync Web site to create an account, selecting a configuration option (desktop PC monitor, workgroup PC monitor or no PC monitor), downloading the PC monitor software to your desktop PC if necessary, downloading and installing the Wireless Sync software on your PDA/smart phone, and synchronizing your mobile PDA or smart phone with Wireless Sync on your device.

Although that series of tasks may seem onerous, it’s not, according to Drake, who says, “That’s not bad at all, and if you look at e-mail, some guys will claim three clicks or three steps to getting e-mail set up, so if it’s seven or eight steps for device management, that’s not bad at all.”

Sprint’s Mobility Management package will set you back US$199.99 per month, but with it, you get 4,000 minutes and two lines. If you add up to three more lines for a total of five, lines 3, 4, and 5 cost an additional $25 each per month.

Verizon Wireless Wireless Sync product is $44.99 per month for customers who have a voice plan, and $49.99 for those who don’t.

Third-party services
Although the third-party backup and sync market has thinned out, there are still several viable contenders selling to either retail stores or carriers. One example is FutureDial Inc., whose SnapSync II product reportedly supports several hundred of the most popular cell phones and adds support for new models weekly. Via its data cable and client software, the product uploads the cell phone directory to a PC and then downloads the synced directory back to the cell phone. The download version of SnapSync II sells for $29, while the CD version goes for $34.

While these simple packages have the advantage of being quick and easy to use, Drake says their inability to work remotely and their poor support for calendar and e-mail applications poses major drawbacks. “The idea of functionality being available over the air should really be a kind of checkmark [on the services plan] today,” Drake says.

Seven Networks Inc. is a third-party vendor that sells to mobile carriers. Although primarily known for its wireless e-mail, the vendor also sells an integrated services package that enables mobile phones to act as terminals that not only back up and sync mobile data, but also download and upload phone directories, calendars and personal information managers (PIM). Competitors include Visto and FusionOne.

On the positive side, third-party technologies include stronger, more focused products and are easy to use. On the negative side, they may be difficult to integrate with legacy mobility systems.

Wireless e-mail

Dulaney is an outspoken advocate of using wireless e-mail for backup/sync functionality and relegating alternatives to the trash bin.

“Here’s where I think it’s going to go,’ he declares. “As wireless e-mail gets further down into the consumer area, that will take care of the backup stuff, and you won’t need some third-party service. Wireless e-mail backs up your e-mail, your PIM, your contacts — everything is taken care of. It’s a synchronization tool.”

In Dulaney’s opinion, traditional USB syncing “will die.” Gartner is telling its corporate customers they should hasten this process by not permitting their employees to sync to their PCs. He explains this by saying that individual end users can create distributed computing and security problems because they are poor data administrators. Moreover, he adds, PCs are not necessarily more reliable than cell phones.

Drake gives a qualified endorsement of wireless e-mail as the master application for backing up and syncing data, saying the technology is fine for dedicated e-mail environments but insufficient for corporate environments that require a vast array of wireless applications.

Conclusion
Even though the overwhelming majority of everyday users never give their mobile data a second thought, the major wireless carriers are introducing inexpensive backup/sync solutions with minimal capabilities created to retain customers, if not awe them with the depth of their functionality. And the inexorable advance of wireless technology as the default service for cell phone backup and synchronization is slowly eliminating unwieldy product offerings based on USB cables and client software packages.

Of course, many, but not all, big enterprise IT shops have moved far beyond the basic pick-and-shovel mobile data management techniques practiced by consumers and small businesses. These more advanced corporations are subscribed to enterprise-level services that add device and security management on top of simple backup/sync capabilities.

With 8 million cell phones expected to be lost or stolen every year, it is clear that users are slow to mend their careless ways, which bodes well for the future of mobile backup and sync services. It also bodes well for the development of future mobility products and services.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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