Testing Your Mobile Vendor

"Hold your vendors' feet to the fire," is the blunt advice from Rick Maule, vice president of mobile computing and connectivity at 3Com, to anyone charged with building and implementing solutions for mobile users.

Maule contends that enterprise users must demand more of solutions providers as companies make the inevitable transition from a wired to a wireless world. That shift, Maule told an audience of about 500 enteprise decision makers, in Las Vegas for the Go Mobile conference, should be seamless to the mobile worker and provide universal connectivity no matter where or how they are working.

"This is an incredible time for the mobile user and the mobile community. I'm a real beliver that notebooks, PDAs and mobile devices will take over the world," he said. "It's about enabling people to work from home to increase producvity, even if they work from home once per month."

Maule stressed that the move to wireless will be more of an evolution than a revolution. Traditional connectivity models will not disappear; common solutions such as Ethernet local area networks (LANs) inside office walls and PC Card modems plugged into laptops outside the workplace will still be in operation after he's dead and gone, Maule said. But enterprises must be ready to provide an increasing number of mobile workers options on top of these solutions--while making them all integrated and more user-friendly. By the middle of next year, workers should be able to choose between four or five connectivity methods.

"For the first time in this industry, we have the chance to work anytime, anywhere, but we need to do it seamlessly between wired and wireless, locally and remote--and pick the best link for performance ease and cost," Maule explained.

For enterprises to succeed, implementers should demand from vendors well-integrated combinations of products to make the user experience simple. Combining a LAN connectior and a modem in one PC Card, for example, along with the software that automatically knows the difference is one step forward, Malue said.

The PC Card modem isn't going anywhere, Maule contended, but it needs to support cellular connections and be backed by intelligent software that makes the transition from hard-wired to wireless environments. "Hold the vendors' feet to the fire to make it easy to manage configurations for all the areas to which you are going to send people. Require vendors to give you software that will allow your people to say, 'I'm in Boston' and they won't come back and thank you for what they didn't have to go through," he continued, eliciting a laugh from the audience. Global road warriors should have software that enables them to simply click on the flag of their current country to set up a remote connection from that nation to the corporate servers--from either a dial-up or wireless connection.

Enterprises can try to build such solutions on their own, he admitted, but "it would take four process pages and two reboots to do it." Rather, users must lean more heavily on vendors to provide them with viable alternatives. Maule soft-pedaled his pitch for 3Com's integrated 10 bps/100Mbps/LAN PC Card, saving it for the last slide of his one-hour presentation.

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