The mobile computing market presents resellers with a tricky combination of current sales opportunities and tantalising potential. Much of the profit for resellers lies some way in the future, and means waiting for standards to be fully ratified, technical hurdles to be overcome and interoperability to be assured through vendor co-operation.
A good living can be made right now, in areas such as the growing market for connectivity between the personal digital assistant (PDA) and corporate databases, and from the virtual private networks that render such connections secure. And there has never been a better time for volume notebook computer sales to major enterprises looking to replace desktops, or the integration of mobile telephony with the corporate network. But so much more lies ahead.
Now would be an excellent time for resellers to consider where they fit into the mobile world of the future: to ensure they steer clear of those parts of the market that are rapidly commoditising, while keeping an eye open for more lucrative opportunities involving integration, training and consulting.
Gareth Williams is sales manager at distributor Hugh Symons Mobile Data. He believes that, far from commoditising, the mobile market of the future will evolve into an increasingly reseller-oriented one as new technologies emerge. "Mobile data and devices have been mainly a retail affair until recently," he said. "But it's an enterprise issue now as more and more network managers are being asked to make corporate content available to mobile workers. Retailers certainly do not know how to implement this kind of solution."
He said that Hugh Symons is trying to talk to as many Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes resellers as possible to interest them in porting their solutions to the mobile world.
"It's a sea change for them, coming as they do from a world of local area networks [Lans]," he said. "But it's something they will need to know for the future as they get asked more and more about mobile solutions. They will be pleasantly surprised about the consultancy charges they will be able to make and the various possibilities for value-added services. It will also give them the chance to talk to new customers as well as revisit old ones with new ideas."
Williams foresees a gradual loss of faith in the notebook PC among corporates, and the growing popularity of the PDA. "They are starting to realise that the £2000 laptops they are buying are being used only for email, whereas they can equip their mobile workers with PDAs for £200 each and actually get more out of the investment," he said.
The avant garde
As a good example of a company at the vanguard of the enterprise PDA market, Williams cites AvantGo, one of his suppliers. "AvantGo provides mobile infrastructure software and services that extend the internet and corporate applications to hand-held devices and to internet-enabled phones. Their software and services bridge the gap between the internet and wireless and mobile technologies," he said.
Williams said the AvantGo Mobile Internet (AMI) service enables content providers and ebusinesses to extend their user reach and increase user loyalty. "The AMI service provides users with interactive and personalised internet content and web-based applications on mobile devices from more than 400 content sources or channels," he said.
Another mobile opportunity that is currently a hot topic in the US, and will no doubt become one on this side of the Atlantic before long, is the emerging mobile web portal space (see case study, right).
Resellers can make good money adding creative mobile functionality to established portal sites. Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at researcher Gartner, said: "Resellers can negotiate with suppliers to get revenue from data transactions, and bigger operators can think of creating their own content."
Dulaney sees a role for both retailers and resellers in the wireless web portal space as Wireless Application Protocol (Wap) and other mobile internet technologies grow. "Resellers can help people construct portal sites, and retailers can sell the end-user finished product," he said. "Often there is too much customisation for either to do on their own." Currently, web-enabled wireless phones and other devices need to be tied into particular web content delivery systems until technology improves, he believes.
Even in the US, the mobile internet is at a fledgling stage, so much so that some resellers are unsure of the future of wireless connectivity with hand-held and portable devices. Many do not know where to go forward, said Eric Feldman, network sales executive at US-based reseller Computer Network Solutions.
"Resellers will not [back] a standard until products are sorted out," said Feldman. "The whole point of a standard is deployment and interconnection, so we need to make a common element to ensure that no matter which product is used it will work."
Andrew Edmeads, product manager at distributor Portable Add-ons, believes the future for wireless multi-client devices is bright. "For example, there's a future for a headset with a Bluetooth link to a GSM [Global System for Mobile communications] node allowing both voice and data traffic. With technology like G2.5 to G3, mobile video phones and 100Kb-to-2Mb data streams, wireless mobile communications of the future will be faster than wired wide area networks [Wans] today," he said.
Kevin Bulcock, connectivity product manager at Ideal Hardware, also tips Bluetooth to be a major mobile growth market of the future. "It will soon be embedded in all sorts of hardware," he said. "Thousands of companies are looking at using it, and many more are already developing applications for it. Ford, for example, is building it into cars to help them get rid of some of the cabling in an average vehicle. Too many companies have already committed to develop for the Bluetooth market for it not to be a success. It has an assured place in the mobile world of the future."
A simpler mobile world
The typical mobile executive of the future, Bulcock believes, will carry a two-part kit comprising a small, lightweight mobile phone and a palm-sized device. "The mobile world will get simpler in some ways, as more and more effort is put into making all the different elements work together. Lots of companies are currently at work on this, such as Puma Technology which specialises in software to synchronise your palmtop device with whatever software you are running on your PC," he said.
Nick Meese, Puma's sales manager, spoke to Computer Reseller News about how his company is helping to make mobile solutions more enterprise-friendly. "Lots of so-called integration companies, by which I mean the large ones that everyone has heard of, still consider the mobile world to be a laptop PC with maybe a phone on the side. Enterprises are crying out for specialists who understand that mobile technology is about more than that," he said.
Meese added that Puma's Telesync product - software for linking PCs to PDAs - is a true corporate product which is useful for a number of applications from sales management to factory supervision. "We also have a rapid application development tool for Palm-based systems. This might typically be used by large telcos to develop mobile solutions easily," he said.
The future of mobile computing is not all about technological development, however. It is also, say many analysts, about cultural change and the evolution of working practices and business processes. Here, the omens are generally encouraging for resellers.
A report by market research company The Butler Group foresees a spread of mobile technology use to all corners of the enterprise. In its conclusion, the report said: "Leading companies are planning a migration to mobile access for not only their sales 'road warriors' but also executives, field support staff, knowledge workers and potentially all workers."
Mobile applications that Butler sees emerging from this growth include banking, share dealing, yellow pages, traffic warnings, parcel tracking, ticket purchasing and up-to-the-minute news and sports results, all deliverable through a mobile, probably web-based medium.
Resellers may well be concerned about how long the mobile computing market can remain one where third parties have a worthwhile role. Many will fear that it is no more immune to the threat of vendors selling direct than any other, and others will already be anticipating a drift to lower prices and increased commoditisation as standards solidify and mobile technology becomes a more accepted part of everyday business life.
Edmeads said: "Will we all buy online, or will we still want to have the personal relationship of talking to a seller? There would be a large cultural change required for the entire population to be driven from the reseller to the direct market. Direct sales may well increase, but I feel there will always be a need for the value-added sale."
"The mobile device space will commoditise further and you can already see this with the market presence of the likes of DSG and Tempo," he added. "The area of the market that will still be available to the dedicated reseller is new and emerging technologies."
Williams agreed. "Constant changes in technology will keep the mobile market a reseller one," he said. "The solutions currently becoming available are actually more complex than older ones, so that more, not less, integration is needed."
The 'always on' connection
The technology Williams sees as most likely to keep integrators in the mobile market is General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a successor to GSM, which he said will improve the end-user experience of mobile data computing by making it possible to remain constantly connected, as well as sending and receiving data at much higher speeds.
Its innovations include packet-based technology and data transmission speeds increased from the current 9.6Kbps to over 100Kbps. It supports the leading internet communications protocols, such as IP and X.25, and is designed to add to, rather than replace, current data services available through today's GSM digital cellular networks such as circuit-switched data and short message service.
Williams also cites high-speed circuit-switched data (HSCSD), which will allow mobile users to send data at up to 38.4Kbps - four times faster than the standard data rates of GSM. HSCSD offers speeds comparable to those of the modems used to communicate with today's fixed phone networks.
An example of future demand for mobile integration is voice and data convergence, said Williams. "Convergence has already happened with fixed link networks to an extent, and it's the turn of mobile networks."
He added that the corporates he talks to all prefer this type of integration to be carried out by tried and tested partners. "They want the company that installed their Lan to talk to them about enabling remote access, not a stranger," he said.
The future of mobile computing is hard for anybody to predict. But unlike so many other technologies that are regularly cited as reseller markets of the future, at least the need to access data on the move is a real one.
It will not surprise resellers to know that the hardware side of the mobile market is not where the action will be. While nobody can claim to know which mobile technologies will rule in five years' time, it is obvious that the work of integrating those technologies with corporate Lans and Wans will occupy the smart reseller of the future.
- While resellers can offer a great deal to corporates who want mobile solutions, much more lies in the future.
- Now is the time for resellers to consider what the future may hold, so they can work out where they stand and avoid the elements of the market that will commoditise.
- There is a shortage of true mobile specialists, with many system integrators unable to see past the laptop PC.
- There is more to the mobile world than technical development. Changes in cultural attitudes are needed before adoption can become truly widespread.
- Traditional network resellers are better positioned than most to deliver the mobile solutions of the future.
|Nine mobile challenges facing resellers|
|Reducing customers' mobile cost of ownership.|
|Delivering efficient deployment and support.|
|Assessing and planning for infrastructure improvements to support mobile business|
|Assessing criteria for going mobile and determining which customer employees will benefit the most.|
|Keeping clients abreast of breakthroughs in areas such as processors, miniaturisation, operating system support, remote access, data communications and battery life.|
|Considering mechanisms and policies to safeguard equipment and data.|
|Choosing and negotiating contracts with mobile telecommunications and internet service operators.|
|Selecting appropriate mobile devices, considering such issues as ease of use and choice of form factors.|
|Developing and implementing mobile ebusiness applications. |
source: The Butler Group
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