Four main market enablers are driving the adoption of mobile and wireless solutions: wireless networks, mobile devices, software infrastructure, and standardization. Without advancements in all of these categories, building mobile enterprise solutions would not be practical. It is no coincidence that mobile and wireless is growing in acceptance just as these technologies and standards are starting to mature.
The previous section covered some of the challenges introduced by these technologies. This section looks at the features these technologies offer and the trends that are emerging to enable the development of robust mobile solutions.
As with other mobile and wireless technologies, the initial marketing focus for wireless carriers was aimed at the consumer market. The emphasis was on inexpensive handsets and packaged calling plans to meet the general consumer's needs. This focus was successful in many regards, as mobile phone usage and device sales have skyrocketed. The problem was that the average consumer does not generate much revenue for wireless carriers, and the revenue it does generate is not high-margin. Wireless data usage was considered to be the answer carriers were looking for, but once again, the consumer market did not provide the revenue or profit that was required. Since then, much of the focus of wireless data services has moved to the corporate market.
In an effort to provide attractive functionality for enterprise users, wireless network operators have spent significant resources to upgrade their networks. The first phase of the upgrade was adding data services in conjunction with their voice offerings. The second phase was making these data services faster and more reliable. Actually, network operators are implementing networks with features that will help to overcome many of the problems that were discussed previously in this chapter. The upgrade is not yet complete, but early indications show that the wireless network improvements will have a meaningful impact on mobile and wireless solution deployments. The following are some of the most significant features:
Increased bandwidth. Many of the voice-oriented wireless networks provide very limited wireless data capabilities. This is no longer the case with the next-generation wireless networks being deployed today. These networks are designed for wireless data, and provide communication speeds between 56 Kbps and 384 Kbps. This speed is very adequate for the limited amount of data that is typically required from a wireless device. That said, some third-generation wireless networks are boasting speeds approaching 2 Mbps, allowing for advanced multimedia applications.
Always-on capabilities. The term always-on refers to the users' ability to access data at any time, without having to establish a connection to the wireless network for each session. This ability has been enabled by packet-switched networks. Unlike circuit-switched networks that bill users on the amount of time they are connected, packet-switched networks charge based on the amount of data transferred. This allows users to stay connected to the network at all times without having to be worried about huge wireless charges. (Chapter 3, "Wireless Networks," has more information on circuit-switched and packet-switched networks.)
Lower costs. The introduction of packet-based networks allows wireless operators to offer new types of wireless packages that are based on data usage instead of call times. Many flat-rate packages are now available. These come in various sizes, some offering unlimited data access for a fixed fee. This has become very popular for many corporations as it allows them to know exactly how much the service will cost, making budgeting much easier. Another factor is roaming charges. Many carriers have drastically reduced, if not totally eliminated, roaming charges for using other carriers' services. Historically, these charges have been quite substantial, often limiting the practicality of some mobile solutions.
Enhanced services. New services are being offered that can add value to mobile solutions. Many carriers now allow users to download additional applications for their devices, providing a wide range of new capabilities. In addition, some integrated services, such as location-based services, are providing companies with valuable features that can impact the success of custom mobile solutions.
Interoperability between carriers. Wireless operators are starting to work together to help promote the benefits of mobility. This cooperation has resulted in a new level of interoperability for both data and voice communication. An example is the ability for users in North America to send text messages to users on other networks, a feature made available in 2002.
Another trend is the introduction of public wireless LANs (PWLANs) to targeted high-traffic areas such as airports, hotels, and conference centers. PWLANs provide high-speed speed data access at a very low cost, and can either augment a wireless wide area network (WAN), or be deployed on their own. These features, along with additional network coverage and new handsets, are an important piece of building wireless enterprise solutions. (Chapter 3 provides complete details on the range of wireless networks and protocols being used.)
The advancements being made in mobile devices are truly incredible, and the selection is astounding. A few years ago the choice was between a wireless phone and a simple PDA. Now there is a long list of options ranging from high-end PDAs with integrated wireless modems down to small phones with wireless Web-browsing capabilities. Even the simplest devices provide enough computing power to run small applications, play games, and of course make voice calls.
The proliferation of devices in the enterprise is a key driver for the growth of mobile solutions. As more personal devices find their way into the enterprise, corporations are realizing the benefits that can be achieved with mobile solutions. The trend is for smaller devices and more processing power. A device that fits in your hand has as much computing power as desktops did less than 10 years ago. The same device is also able to communicate over a wireless network and view office documents at the same time. This combination of size, power, and flexibility is a key enabling technology for enterprise mobile solutions. Other key advancements include increased storage space, high-resolution displays, built-in wireless support, reduced energy consumption and increased battery capacity, improved ergonomics, and support for peripherals such as wireless modems, digital cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) units, portable keyboards, and large-capacity storage.
With the device landscape changing so rapidly, it is recommended that organizations select devices based on immediate business need, not for future intent. Features that are attractive today may not be deemed important for future applications. The device market is currently fragmented, with many specialty-purpose devices targeted at specific sets of users. It is expected that this will continue for the foreseeable future as integrated voice and data devices are not yet experiencing widespread acceptance in the enterprise. (For more details on the range of devices on the market, see Chapter 2, "Mobile Devices.")
Along with wireless networks and mobile devices, a strong software platform is also required to develop and deploy robust mobile solutions. These platforms offer support for the leading mobile computing models, including wireless Internet, smart client, and mobile messaging architectures. In many cases, these platform vendors have partnered with other mobile infrastructure providers to supply an end-to-end solution. This helps ease the process of integrating disparate technologies.
Software vendors have made significant advances in several key areas that enable mobile application development. For wireless Internet applications, the introduction of wireless application server frameworks, device emulators, WAP, and development tools has had an impact. For smart client applications, the advent of small mobile databases, advanced synchronization technology, and comprehensive mobile operating systems has allowed many m-business solutions to be possible. In addition, new technologies from Microsoft in the form of .NET Compact Framework, and Java community in the form of the Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME), have provided developers with the tools they need to implement these solutions.
We do not want to forget about the advances being made in the areas of messaging, security, enterprise integration, mobile device management, and location services. All of these technologies are key in successful development and deployment of mobile solutions.
This section is intentionally brief, since most of the remainder of this book deals with the design and development of mobile applications using mobile software infrastructure. The first introduction to the mobile application architectures is provided in Chapter 4, "Mobile Application Architectures." These architectures are then explained in more depth in Chapter 5, "Mobile and Wireless Messaging," and in Parts II and III of the book.
Many companies have cited the lack of standards as a major obstacle in developing mobile solutions. They are worried that the technology they use will become obsolete before their application is even deployed. This is a valid concern. Having an established standard provides some comfort that their applications will work now and in the future. As with any new industry, it takes time for standards to develop. Fortunately, we are now at the point where standards are emerging at all levels of the mobile environment.
The leading wireless standard is WAP, which defines technologies for developing and deploying wireless Internet applications. The early incarnations of WAP received mixed reactions, partially due to the standard itself, and partly due to the state of the wireless industry. WAP 2.0 has addressed many of these concerns by working much better with common Internet standards.
For markup languages, the eXtensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML) is emerging as the language of choice. Many of the existing markup languages such as Wireless Markup Language (WML), Compact HTML (cHTML), and HTML itself are all converging on XHTML. To accommodate differences in client browser capabilities, different profiles of XHTML are targeted at wireless devices. Another markup language that has reached widespread adoption is VoiceXML. VoiceXML is a markup language for the creation of interactive voice applications.
For the development of client-side applications, two technologies are competing for the developers' attention: J2ME and Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW). BREW is targeted at smart phones, while J2ME spans from smart phones to high-end PDAs. Application developers can feel confident that these standards will provide a stable application environment for some time to come. Although not officially a standard, Microsoft's .NET Compact Framework (.NET CF) will help to drive mobile development for Windows CE-based devices. Similar to J2ME, .NET CF is a viable development platform that is unlikely to fade away. It is also worthwhile to note that the other common development tools based on C/C++ and Visual Basic are good choices for smart client application development.
For synchronization, SyncML is a leading candidate for standardization. The SyncML Initiative now part of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) is actively working on synchronization specifications for a variety of data types, including personal information such as calendar and address books, corporate business data, and mobile device management. (More information on SyncML can be found in Chapter 10, "Enterprise Integration through Synchronization," and Chapter 16, "Mobile Information Management.") Finally we have the wireless networks. While there is no agreed-upon standard for wide area wireless, underlying support for the Internet Protocol (IP) is an emerging trend. This is a dramatic improvement over the many proprietary wireless protocols that have been used in the past. For wireless LANs, 802.11b and 802.11a are the leading standards being deployed. Both of these allow for interoperability between both hardware and software products. Bluetooth provides similar support and interoperability for personal area networks (PANs).
Although standards help to promote interoperability and stability, they are not mandatory for creating robust mobile solutions. Many products on the market do not adhere to the standards mentioned previously; nevertheless, they still provide highly functional, stable platforms for building advanced m-business applications.