Mobile vendors to carriers: Give us interoperability

Canadian carriers need to make some serious changes before the mobile market can improve, according to a panel of wireless specialists.

Representatives from Sierra Wireless, Nokia,

Palmsource and Research in Motion spoke Tuesday at a wireless conference hosted by BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto.

RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis fired the first volley: “”The most important thing for us is inter-carrying roaming for data services: GPRS and 1X. That’s the No. 1 priority for us,”” he said. “”In terms of carriers, it’s just interoperability — making sure that one network infrastructure works with another, and in a lot of cases, works together in the same network.””

GPRS is the mobile standard used by Rogers-AT&T and Microcell. Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility operate on 1XRTT over a CDMA network. The schism between the different standards is often the industry punching bag for dividing consumers and preventing a move towards third generation, or 3G, telephony which is already close to reality in Europe and other parts of the world.

“”We don’t need 14 different gateways for messaging. We don’t need multiple ways of provisioning services, buying software, things of that sort,”” said Palmsource president and CEO David Nagel. “”We need some standards in and around that. They (carriers) can presumably compete in other ways.””

Nagel added that carriers haven’t provided a decent roadmap to move more wireless technology into the enterprise market. “”It has very little to do with technology; it has to do with how they organize themselves and how they organize their own systems integrators and buyers,”” he said. “”There really is no effective channel for the most part for wireless carriers in the enterprise.””

That sentiment was echoed by the rest of the panel, along with a complaint from Sierra Wireless CEO David Sutcliffe that carriers aren’t as familiar or as engaged with the IT market as they could be.

Another player in the telecommunications industry hasn’t lived up to promise either, the panel offered. “”They’re (Microsoft) sort of a fact of life,”” said Nagel. “”(But) I think they’ve been singularly unsuccessful, frankly, trying to get in the wireless space. They were clearly unsuccessful in getting into the handset manufacturers. They sort of invented a strategy which is a reprise of the clone strategy for PCs.””

What worked for white box companies won’t necessarily work for device makers, he said, who are trying to differentiate themselves as much as possible.

Companies like RIM have relied on products from Microsoft, Lotus and Novell to sell their devices, said Lazaridis. The problem is, they’re not always equipped to deal with the demands of real time connectivity and the number of messages pushed through the server, which all have to be compressed.

“”The software that runs on (BlackBerry) has to be up 24×7, it has to be secure, it has to almost be anointed by the IT department,”” he said. “”What we discovered was that to make that happen with the existing servers out there was not an easy job.””

While Microsoft hasn’t achieved more than a modicum of success in the mobile market, it would be foolish to count the company out, said Sutcliffe. The company will keep hammering away at the market until they get the approach right. The challenge will be to scale back on operating systems that are designed for desktop and server computing so they’ll meet the more modest needs of mobile applications.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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