Upward Mobility

Mobile Future

When we think about wireless, the first thing to pop into our minds is the good old standby mobile phone. It's fun to think back to the brick-sized chunks of phone that came out in the '80s. Now, devices are so small you can lose them in your Dockers. That's progress. We'll take a look a little later at some of the conflicting design trends of cellular phones. Right now, it's time for an exploration of the much-hyped G's: 2.5G and 3G.

The here and now is 2.5G. Although there's some argument over what truly qualifies as 3G, it's safe to say that there is not a network in the country yet that gets anywhere near the speeds required to carry true 3G data types.

Though e-mail and messaging come over phones enabled with Sprint's much-promoted nationwide PCS Vision faster than ever before, what Sprint calls 3G is only a step in the right direction.

Verizon's 2.5G Express Network service, also available nationwide, is comparable. Cindy Patterson, vice president of enterprise data sales at Verizon Wireless, sees the most demand for short messaging services (SMS), remote access mobile e-mail services and international traveler features that allow users to keep one phone number wherever they go. Speeds can burst up to 144Kbps, but only under ideal conditions. Verizon and other carriers are test-marketing 3G services that reach broadband speeds allowing streaming media and the potential for more powerful mobile business applications, but it may well be the end of the year before we really get a strong inkling as to the wide availability (and desirability) of 3G services.

If your budget is willing and the current crop of applications are useful for your business, there's no need to wait before launching a mobile strategy. "For entrepreneurs, it's really important to build mobility into their business from the beginning. It will save them a lot of money upfront and also give them a competitive edge," says Patterson. For example, while SMS hasn't exploded like wildfire, it can be a good fit to provide short, timely updates to a mobile sales force. SMS advances we'll see this year include longer messages and delivery confirmation. Cellular in 2003 will be about mobile entrepreneurs adopting and adapting the services that are available to fill their needs.

The possibilities for high-speed mobile data coming down the line won't have much impact on displays the size of postage stamps. We asked around and found that experts are seeing a trend toward bigger screens on mobile phones and phone/PDA hybrids. You may end up kissing your sub-3-ounce marvel of a miniscule phone goodbye in exchange for services like e-mail or messaging.

"There are a couple strategies a business can go with from a device perspective," says Patterson. "They can have a phone that does data or they can have a data device that does voice." What you choose depends on your goals.

Data-oriented devices like the Handspring Treo will be bulkier and often pricier, but they make services like wireless Internet and e-mail much more comfortable to use.

Digital imaging-enabled mobile device shipments will reach

worldwide by 2006.

Source: IDC

More than

wireless network access points are in use by 700,000 U.S. enterprises.

Source: The Yankee Group


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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Upward Mobility.

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