Wireless venture targets mobile users

Wireless venture targets mobile users

Network managers said a Microsoft/ Qualcomm wireless network access business could work in corporate settings - if it can be guaranteed to be secure and reliable.

The comments came after the formal launch of WirelessKnowledge LLC, a joint Microsoft/ Qualcomm venture designed to bring corporate data access to mobile end users via wireless networks.

Customers are saying they are wary of wireless data transport because it's immature technology that poses security problems.

Yet some conceded that Microsoft's entry into the wireless service field means that wireless access to e-mail and other data could be an adjunct of their networks in the next two years.

WirelessKnowledge has set up a network operations centre in San Diego (also Qualcomm's base), where nine major wireless carriers are slated to provide security and other services for remote workers who use handhelds, laptops, pagers and cellular phones to retrieve data from their company servers and the Web.

Officials for the venture said software at the San Diego centre will add a security layer to that already offered by the carriers and will allow the proper interface between a company's server-based data and any size mobile device using any of several wireless standards. Trials will begin in January.

Network professionals said the high profile of Microsoft in the computer industry could prompt them to look at the wireless service. But not right away.

"Frame-relay networks are so cheap that I don't see a great application for wireless in the financial services area we're in," said Michael Foutes, a senior security specialist at The CIT Group.

Alex Hu, assistant vice president of information technology at The Chase Manhattan Bank, said security was a major barrier. "Banks are so preoccupied with security that if we wanted to run data over wireless, we'd set up our own network ourselves," he said.

Users said the real estate and medical fields could probably benefit because they have users who need to access relatively non-critical data such as access to personal calendars.

"I do believe managers should look at wireless as an alternative for anything non-mission- critical, but there are questions about security on wireless that doesn't apply on the land-line networks," said Matthew O'Brien, past president of the Communications Managers Association, a user group.

O'Brien is now manager of provisioning at Icon, an Internet services company.

"There's already a lot of interest in wireless by customers, but it's not possible to implement it right now without consistent wireless standards and security," said Ellen Van Cleve, director of data communications at The New York Times, which has 2000 remote users in foreign countries.

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