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MICROSCOPE: Blue sky climb

MICROSCOPE: Blue sky climb

I 've made a decision. I'm going to get myself one of those handheld-cum-mobile phone gadgets that let me roam around the world on any network; tells me about merchant specials as I wander by shops; and connects me to my phone, fax, fridge and eventually my pacemaker while I blast around the Internet or send Web pages or videos to my friends - without any wires. Oh, and all at a minimum speed of 2Mbit/sec. Somehow I'm also going to link all this with the wireless LAN which, if I had a business, I would be a fool not to have.

What do you think? Imagine how cool it would be if there were in fact a product like this on the market that actually did what it promised. If you want inspiration, just observe the portentous advertising campaigns of the leading communications companies.

According to a recent advertisement by Ericsson, I could be a North American fisherman, cold and miles from nowhere, armed merely with my WAP-enabled, CDMA, GPRS-equipped GSM or 3G phone, and I could do just about everything including ordering all my kinky leather S&M equipment right out there in the snow. But of course that's just the tip of the iceberg.

There is so much money invested in mobile spectrum and R&D that carriers and equipment providers are working hard to perpetuate this mobility/broadband craze with a range of phone-enabling promises, from vending machine purchases to booking, checking in and entering your hotel room without even a nod to the concierge.

In a business vein, several vendors assure us they have "the technology" to create wireless communications networks connecting staff securely to back-end systems and critical data using a myriad of pocket-sized gadgets. In fact, the traditional notions of the office are under siege: businesses stop paying rent and no-one needs to go to work anymore!

As most people in communications realise, we are really in the gold-digging days of the great expansion. There's the promise of high-speed broadband networks with a new world of video/audio streaming and all things "wow" to transform the way we all do, well, everything - and doing it all without wires!

It's an industry full of promises. But to be fair, there are a handful of companies getting it right -- and I stress "handful". For channel players looking to endear themselves to their customers, now is the time to invest in getting it right. In this fledgling blue skies industry, not stuffing it up translates into competitive advantage.

Advanced Portable Technologies

Felix Wong, managing director of Advanced Portable Technologies, believes that most resellers today are just selling a device, and not seizing the real opportunity: to provide a solution getting back-end data back out to staff via a handheld device.

Started in 1991, APT is a Sydney-based distributor specialising in wireless business solutions, emphasising remote access technologies for notebooks. APT covers the full gamut of handheld devices and counts some of Australia's biggest companies as its clients.

Wong says that the big opportunity for resellers lies in the fact that companies have invested massive amounts of money in their back-end applications and in collecting corporate data but don't yet have any real way to keep staff connected once they leave the building.

But Wong admits there is still a long way to go. "There is no killer app for handhelds at the moment," he says. "The market is really made up of snippets of things; so at the moment we source different solutions and put them together."

He says today's wireless networks pose certain limitations, and companies will need to make compromises until the wide deployment of General Packet Radio Service, when opportunities in the wireless space are expected to explode.

The interesting result of all of this is that the channel itself must carry the responsibility of creating viable solutions for its customers. In other words, there is no box!

Integrity Data Systems

Adelaide-based distributor Integrity Data Systems was one of the first companies in Australia to introduce wireless outdoor routers and now occupies a powerful position in the growing market for short range radio-based networks servicing businesses, schools and government departments. As master distributor in this country for US communications giant Lucent, IDS is considered by many locally as one of the handful of reliable wireless LAN solutions providers.

Founder Ross Chiswell appreciates the high degree of complexity in choosing and implementing the right technology, although many technology and service providers can't come to grips with it. In fact, the types of companies that IDS addresses have a growing problem in that many are now accumulating equipment that is either not appropriate, poorly configured or both.

Industry observers describe the scenario: vendors will deliver a solution to their channel partners, which will never get off the ground because the vendor provides too little information. Unfortunately, the channel player will then, knowingly or unwittingly, try to force a square peg into a round hole. The core fundamentals of security and reliability remain the necessary keys for resellers to have a chance at cracking this space.

With the current speed of 11Mbit/sec for free radio spectrum in Australia, there has been much discussion about the ratification of standards for 22Mbit/sec and 54Mbit/sec speeds. There had been plans to develop 22Mbits/sec for the 2.4Ghz band, but investigations discovered by employing the same modulation techniques for 22Mbit/sec, 54Mbit/sec could be achieved in the 5.8Ghz band.

So the question, according to Chiswell, is whether the industry should progress from 11Mbit/sec through 22Mbit/sec, and then on to 54Mbit/sec - or go straight to 54Mbit/sec. He claims many companies in this space don't understand the importance of the issue.

"There is plenty of hype and misinformation about speeds, with companies saying that they will be able to offer better than 11Mbit/sec before the issue has even been resolved," he says. The reality is that this is unlikely to occur until at least late next year, although businesses are not always getting the full story.

NetComm

One company that has always been at the centre of the home grown communications industry is NetComm. One of Australia's first and only manufacturers of modems - and now in the process of building its own broadband ADSL network - the company occupies a rare yet powerful position in the local market.

Late last year NetComm made the critical move to acquire a carrier licence with a view to delivering high-speed voice and data solutions to businesses and residential users. Admittedly this was partly out of necessity as modem sales were stagnating. It forced the transformation of NetComm into a broader communications services provider.

The result is one of the more interesting corporate experiments undertaken by an Australian technology company. MD and co-founder David Stewart recognises that it's a punt, or an "each-way-bet" as he prefers to call it - being a hardware specialist and network service provider - and places NetComm in a unique position nationally and internationally.

As Stewart points out, having the

necessary experience in the manufacture of communications hardware enables NetComm to easily undertake upgrades of its own network while guaranteeing high levels of reliability. "The advantage we have is that we avoid the pitfalls of

dealing with external vendors, most of which have only a few facets of the whole picture."

He adds that by the time the message gets to the public, there is an enormous amount of misinformation about what wireless or broadband vendors are actually delivering. This, it seems, is the one thing that channel players in the communications space can rely on.


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