Don't underestimate 3G data services, industry experts say. These offerings will tie mobile laptops and voice/data smartphones into corporate networks with something approximating a useable desktop computing experience.
"Mobile broadband laptops are a Big Deal," says Rajeev Chand, director of wireless research for Rutberg & Co., a San Francisco investment bank. "It's driving real traffic for carriers."
That's because enterprises are using 3G to do real work. A recent survey by Chadwick Martin Bailey of 114 IT decision makers at companies with 1,000 or more employees found that 48 per cent said they're using 3G services, and that another 22 per cent plan to start within the next 12 months.
"There's no 'killer app' for 3G," says Paul DeBeasi, senior analyst for wireless and mobility, Burton Group, technology research and advisory company. "But it does mean easier access to information, faster customer response times to customers, always-available access to databases, and increased job and work flexibility."
"3G" refers to Evolution-Data Only (EV-DO) and High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), with downlink speeds of 500K to 700Kbps, and uplink speeds of 60K to 100Kbps. Enhanced 3G networks, such as EV-DO Revision A and High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) improve the uplink by about three times that speed, and offer about 1Mbps download speeds.
This is a far cry from 100Mbps Ethernet to the desktop. But most of the applications running over that cable don't require anything like 100Mbps. 3G networks, in effect, let you take your "desk" with you.
"It's not like plugging into an RJ-45 jack, but we're getting closer all the time," says Craig Mathias, principal for Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile consulting firm. Mathias says anything you can do in the office you can now do outside the office with 3G...provided you have coverage, provided the mobile carrier has the needed capacity, provided you have the right handheld.
"It means that field applications can become 'richer,'" says Tom Henderson, managing director for ExtremeLabs, a technology testing and research lab. "You can have more multimedia [in applications] without latency issues, and it permits a lot more tools and applications on the device." The corollary is that the Web sites accessed by 3G mobile users will be able to make more use, and more sophisticated use, of rich media compared with static HTML pages, he says.
"This seems like an obvious migration to me," says Ken Dulaney, a vice president covering wireless for Gartner. "Enterprise IT will move to 3G simply because the [mobile] operators will move it there. 3G will enable more data from laptops, and will improve some handheld experiences where browsing is important."
Earlier this year, Gartner changed its advice about not buying laptops with embedded 3G radios. Until now, an embedded card tied the laptop to one carrier's cellular network, and service plans were costly, especially when users incurred roaming charges. Dulaney says that by 2009 IT can plan on 3G laptops lasting three years without needing a wireless upgrade. And that's desirable, he says, because internal communications modules outperform USB or card modules. And mobile carriers are offering more competitive service plans and options.