Components of a Wireless Environment

Components of a Wireless Environment

Putting together a wireless solution requires products and services from several parties. The combination of all of these parties constructs the mobile value chain. Each "link" in the chain corresponds to one aspect of an end-to-end enterprise solution. Figure 1.2 shows how the components of a complete enterprise mobile solution relate to one another. No single vendor can provide all of these offerings on its own, but with the formation of strategic partnerships, many vendors are working toward providing an integrated end-to-end solution. For many development managers, this is preferable to having to piece together a solution on their own.

Click To expand Figure 1.2: Wireless solution value chain.

Wireless Operators and Service Providers

For any wireless solution, some form of wireless operator or service provider will be required. These are companies that provide the communications infrastructure for wireless wide area networks and/or wireless local area networks. Most of these providers are the same companies who provide wireless voice access for mobile phones. In some cases, other companies package the wireless communication component with other services such as wireless gateway software and client device software. Companies that provide such packaged offerings are referred to as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). In either case, it is important to select a wireless operator that can provide the required services in the geographic area in which your solution will be deployed.

Independent Hardware Vendors

In addition to the mobile devices, other hardware is often required for wireless solutions. This may include wireless modems, network cards, and wireless access points. Most of the laptops and PDAs available require additional hardware for wireless connectivity. This is usually in the form of a Compact Flash (CF) or PCMCIA card. This is starting to change with integrated wireless devices such as the Palm i705, Handspring Treo, RIM BlackBerry, and wireless-enabled laptops, but it will still be some time before this is standard on all devices.

Software Infrastructure Providers

In many aspects, the wireless software industry is just starting to mature. Many of the niche players have either fallen due to poor technology or business planning, or have been acquired by larger organizations. Leaders are emerging in all fields, including wireless application servers, mobile data storage and synchronization, wireless Web browsers, mobile office software, and device management. When implementing an m-business solution, you will want to select a software provider that has a proven track record and can demonstrate its offering in the environment you have selected. More details of software vendors are provided throughout the book as we cover the technology related to their specific offerings.

Independent Software Vendors (ISVs)

In addition to software infrastructure providers, independent software vendors, or ISVs, can provide industry solutions that require less work to deploy than building a solution from the ground up. Many of these solutions are either aimed at horizontal markets, such as field sales or field service, or at vertical industries, such as healthcare, finance, and transportation and logistics. If you are deploying a solution that is common to many other companies, it is likely that a turnkey solution is available from an ISV. Many of the software infrastructure providers will have lists of ISVs for various industry solutions if you are looking for a place to get started.

System Integrators (SIs)

System integrators, or SIs, are the companies that can help bring all of these components together. Many of the large SIs have practices focused on mobile enterprise solutions. If you are uncertain where to start, or can foresee that there will be difficulty implementing a mobile solution, using a system integrator can provide valuable benefits.

Device Manufacturers

Mobile devices are a requirement for a mobile solution. These devices range in size, functionality, and cost. It is important to choose the right device for the application being deployed. For m-business solutions, PDAs and laptops are more commonly used than mobile phones. This is because they offer more effective user interfaces, and can run more sophisticated applications than what is offered on mobile phones. This situation may start to change as smart phones (a combination of phone and PDA) become more popular in the business world. Chapter 2, "Mobile Devices," provides an overview of the range of mobile devices currently being used.

Keep in mind that not all of these components are required for every solution. It is entirely possible to utilize only a subset of the value chain and still produce the application that is right for the task at hand. For example, a mobile field service application can be created using only a software infrastructure provider, application developers, and mobile devices. If the solution is mobile, but not wireless, then the wireless operator is not required. Many solutions do not require additional hardware other than the device itself, and system integrators are required only when development and integration is not performed by in-house resources. As you start to plan your particular solution, you will quickly determine which components your solution will require.

As we continue through the remaining chapters of Part I, more information on these components will be provided. From there, the other parts of the book will provide everything that you need to know to design, develop, and deploy effective mobile and wireless enterprise solutions.