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The coming choice in wireless for CIOs

With more wireless "walled gardens" coming down, CIOs can finally recast their mobile enterprise infrastructures, FirstHand's David Hattey says.

Wireless industry suppliers last fall breathed collective sighs of relief as Apple and Verizon Wireless made two momentous announcements signaling the imminent end of wireless walled gardens.

First came an announcement from Apple that it would open up the iPhone to third-party applications through a software development kit that becomes available next month. This means that Apple is allowing suppliers to place software applications on the iPhone, and some predict that within a month of the APIs becoming available, all applications--consumer and enterprise--will begin to appear on the iPhone. The upshot: there will be even greater pressure on chief information officers to allow iPhones within enterprise organizations.

The other announcement came from Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 cellular provider in North America, which promised that customers will be able to use "any app, any device" on its network. So instead of merely accepting the functionality that came on mobile devices supported by Verizon, enterprises will continue to have choices offered by Verizon, plus many others from software developers. Wireless carriers tend to be consumer focused, without much emphasis on features and applications for enterprises. Now the mobile software industry can fill the void and provide those features and applications for enterprises.

There will be even greater pressure on CIOs to allow iPhones within enterprise organizations.

CIOs should view these announcements from Verizon and Apple as opportunities for their IT departments to gain greater control over mobile devices, add enterprise functionality, and improve the productivity of their mobile workforces. Some of the advanced enterprise features becoming available include device management, enterprise fixed mobile convergence (FMC), voice call continuity (VCC), and session mobility.

Device management allows the remote management of mobile devices, meaning enterprise IT departments can update software over the air and can remove information on a stolen or lost mobile device. Enterprise FMC extends the features and functionality on the enterprise PBX out to mobile devices, essentially creating feature-rich mobile extensions. VCC is the ability for a mobile worker using a dual-mode device to seamlessly move a call from the cellular network to a Wi-Fi network and back again. And session mobility allows individuals to move calls from their mobile devices to their desktop phones and vice versa.

These announcements should also enable CIOs to leverage investments in their communications infrastructures, keep records of all mobile call activity and voice mail messages internally, and gain greater visibility into mobility budgets. CIOs will also be able to deliver single number reach and one voice mailbox, which increase the productivity of mobile workforces and allow customers to get in touch with salespeople much more quickly.

When investigating the new enterprise applications and mobile devices, CIOs should consider how these will improve and speed up internal and customer-facing business processes, and how much the new applications and mobile devices remove or reduce human latency in the daily interactions of mobile workforces. And, most importantly, CIOs need to ensure that the new functionality is delivered securely, ensuring all communications, whether cellular or over Wi-Fi, can't be intercepted.

Lastly, CIOs need to take into account their communications infrastructures: Can their Wi-Fi infrastructure handle voice over Wi-Fi? How much of the software must their enterprise own? Can carriers like Verizon provide the functionality? Or should they seek a combination of the two?

If Verizon is serious about opening up and Apple delivers actual, usable software development kits, CIOs will be deluged with enterprise applications, especially on the iPhone, devices running Windows Mobile, and on RIM BlackBerry devices. And that's good news for them and enterprise users, since the plethora of advanced capabilities, like other wireless innovations before them, will most certainly improve productivity while reducing costs and giving the CIO a greater ability to enforce mobility policies.