Voice and data united for eternity

The cell phone is suffering a slow death. Today, most business users have more devices than they know what to do with — a PC, a home phone, an office phone, a cell phone, a personal digital assistant (PDA) and maybe a pager. How many devices do users really want, and how many services are they willing

to pay for? It all comes down to simplicity — which is driving the convergence of voice and data onto a single handheld device.

“”The cell phone will be dead by 2010 — that’s guaranteed,”” says Brownlee Thomas, Montreal-based principal analyst of telecom services at Forrester Research Inc. “”Everything that’s shipped will be data-enabled.””

She also predicts the death of the PDA as we know it by 2005. What will replace cell phones and PDAs, she says, is a product that has different form factors for different users, has voice capability and provides the same functions as a PDA.

Vendors are already developing products that combine the features of cell phones and PDAs on a single device and communicate using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and satellite-based global positioning system. In the future, they’ll also have FM radio and digital TV. PalmOne, Samsung and Kyocera recently released Cobolt 6.1, a wireless-ready version of the Palm operating system for GSM phones; it supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

But no single design fits all users, said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer with PalmSource Inc., the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based maker of the Palm operating system.

“”Sometimes when people talk about convergence, there’s this assumption that everything’s going to converge down to a single standard design that everyone is going to use,”” Mace says. “”We don’t see that happening – it’s not like the PC market in the sense that there are one or two killer apps that everyone is going to use.””

A salesperson who travels frequently, for example, might want a single device that provides voice, e-mail, instant messaging, short message service (SMS) and fax. Professional users, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics, might look for a different type of device. “”What these people usually want is not so much heavy-duty messaging features but large storage capacity, larger screens so they can read the documents they’ve got on the device and wireless browsing so they can look things up on online databases,”” he says.

Then there are users who want a device that blends their profession with their personal lifestyle — such as doctors who want devices from which they can access patient information and listen to music.

“”It’s not like IT managers are going to specify these devices but you’re going to see more and more users say, ‘Look, this thing is in my pocket whether I’m at home or whether I’m at work and I want something that can bridge both of those worlds,'”” Mace says.


The challenge is to understand these new market segments, says Mace.

“”Most of the companies in the industry are still operating on the assumption that it’s going to be just like the PC space and all you need to do is put out a faster processor and more memory and just soup up the hardware features and that’s going to be great,”” he says. “”But if you look at these devices, the ones that sell well are the ones that solve real problems for specific people.””

Examples include Research in Motion’s BlackBerry e-mail device, palmOne’s handhelds, which allow “”basic synchronization with your PC”” and Apple’s iPod music players.

“”Even if they do other stuff, they’ve always got this one flagship thing that they do extremely well,”” Mace said.

We’re already starting to see this trend with customer purchases — products like the Garmen GPS device, Cathay entertainment device and tri-band smart phone, which all focus on a different type of customer.

Sierra Wireless has just rolled out its Voq Professional Phone that uses Windows Mobile 2003, which it’s targeting at business users. “”It’s clearly a business thing, it’s not a soccer mom phone,”” says Greg Speakman, director of marketing with Sierra Wireless.

The convergence of voice and data on a single device will mean different things to different users, he says. For people who carry around multiple devices, this could mean hard-dollar savings from having fewer devices with fewer wireless service accounts.

For other people, the benefits might be less tangible. If you’re a salesperson, for example, and a customer has a question you can’t answer, you can send a quick SMS message back to the office and 30 seconds later have the answer. “”It increases the customer’s confidence in you, it increases their satisfaction level,”” he says, “”and those are all very difficult to measure but truly do add value to an organization.””

But demonstrating the return on investment can be difficult, says Hernan Lardiez, marketing and sales manager with Nokia Canada Enterprise Solutions. While the use of such devices may not directly cut costs, they could benefit business in other ways, such as improved productivity, better access to information and the ability to provide better customer support.

“”If you can increase the productivity of your employees, of your sales force, that is one way you can demonstrate ROI,”” he says.

The Nokia Communicator 9500 will be available in Canada in the first quarter of 2005, and will offer business-critical applications, fast network connectivity and large memory storage, according to the company.

“”If you see how many phones we’re using today, probably at least three — at home, at the office and your cell phone – that is going to change one way or another,”” Lardiez says. “”We’ll look for one device doing most of the things we need and not having different devices for PDAs or cell phones.””


As the devices continue to evolve, there will be a constant trade-off between size and function, say Alex Nanos, mobility solutions manager with Microsoft Canada. While you’ll still get the most out of your computing experience while you’re sitting at your desk, the idea is to replicate a familiar user experience across all form factors, he says.

“”By deploying the back-end server infrastructure once, deploying a single security model once, you’ve now opened up the infrastructure to be able to connect through any device,”” he says. This gives users a consistent experience as they move from the desktop to a pocket PC to a smart phone. And, it allows any handheld device to become a client or access point when users walk out the door.

“”I know that any changes I make will be reflected on every other form factor when I get back to the office,”” he says. “”We’ve incorporated multi-network connectivity into the operating system as well, so a lot of these devices support wide-area networks that are running the cell phone (and) the Wi-Fi networks that are within a campus environment.””

If there are good software programs available, says PalmSource’s Mace, employees will adopt these devices without telling the IT department. In a lot of cases, employees will purchase devices on their own, so for the IT department, it’s more a matter of providing them with support. This involves setting some basic standards around security, such as turning on the device password.

“”We encourage folks to think more in terms of setting those standards for software compatibility rather than worrying about trying to standardize on a particular platform,”” he says. “”Because of the diversity of needs of different users, it’s going to be very hard for companies to enforce a single OS standard.””

What happens, he says, is you end up restricting user choice so much that you get a lot of aggravated employees. Because the devices only cost a few hundred dollars, they’ll go out and buy what they want anyway — and just not bother to tell IT. “”Then you’re in a really nasty situation where IT has to go and take devices out of users’ hands when they’ve gone and bought them on their own,”” he says. “”Most IT managers just don’t have time for that.””

Forrester’s Thomas recommends that employers offer subsidies to employees who buy their own devices. She adds the product someone chooses will be based more on job function than the vertical market they’re in, and they might also buy two devices from the same service provider who can give them a single plan.

Eventually, the world will move toward software-defined radio, she says, where it won’t matter what the device is.

“”If there’s a roaming agreement between your mobile carrier and another mobile carrier, you can do roaming even if it’s a different network standard,”” Thomas says. “”Where we’re going is to a world where the convergence [is] wireless and wireline, GSM and CDMA — and that convergence is a bigger convergence.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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