The mobile workplace

The region’s telecommunications operators are overhauling their networks and looking to new mobile technologies to cater for the demand for mobile data traffic

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By  Caroline Denslow Published  November 27, 2005

|~|telcomainbody.jpg|~|Mobile devices which enable connectivity are now commonplace. |~|Mobile solutions have gained prominence over the last decade, from their original introduction as the sole preserve of senior management, before filtering down to become a commonplace resource among junior staff and field workers. But the growth in demand for mobile enterprise solutions has been engineered by the growth of the internet and the explosion of the number of devices used to access that information. As soon as the internet beca- me pervasive, employees began taking their work home. They began accessing their e-mails over notebooks and BlackBerrys. Mobile phones and PDAs beca- me the devices of choice for managing contacts and calendars. Nearly 87 million mobile devices were sold in 2004 — over nine million of these were PDAs [IDC], 27.6 million were smartphones [ARC Group] and the rest, 50 million, were notebooks [IDC]. The increasing reliance of companies on mobile working has caused the continuous expansion of the world’s mobile workforce population. Analyst firm IDC predicts that the number of mobile employees will grow from more than 650 million worldwide in 2004 to more than 850 million in 2009. At the same time, the opportunities in the mobility market have continued to thrive. In fact, mobile data traffic revenues from e-mail and personal information management functions (PIM) alone is expected to bring in US$650 million this year, says ARC Group. Future revenues in that area, the analyst firm says, will increase 13-fold in the next five years. “It is not just computers that we access networks with now,” explains Mohsen Malaki, IDC Middle East and Africa’s programme and consulting manager, communications. “There are a plethora of mobile devices that enable connectivity so computers are just one fraction of devices that we are looking at that enable the workforce to connect to enterprise applications,” he adds. Increased bandwidth offered by new mobile technologies such as WLAN (wireless local area network), Wi-Fi hotspots and eventually WiMax, and the uptake of broadband services in the home are ranked as some of the key enablers for the adoption of mobile enterprise solutions. Likewise, the migration of enterprises to an internet protocol (IP) virtual private network (VPN) for corporate networks is also viewed as a significant development in the Middle East as the migration of the corporate wide area network (WAN) to IP VPN enables easy access from remote locations. It is no wonder then that the region’s network providers are shifting their focus from voice-based services and developing new offerings that are more data-driven. A number of telco companies, such as MTC-Vodafone, Wata- niya Telecom and Etisalat have been undergoing a complete overhaul of their infrastructure in anticipation of the new set of data-centred demands mobile workers have. In the UAE, Etisalat has undertaken a major project that sees the development of a next-generation network (NGN), which seeks to incorporate IP at the core of the network and create the foundation for the introduction of a number of voice, data and video services. “We realised that the public switched telephone network (PSTN) was not growing, it is designed mainly just for voice,” says Etisalat’s chief engineer of NGN planning, Mohammed Yousif Al Ramsi. Etisalat CEO Mohammad Omran has described the operator’s NGN developments as the “revival of the fixed line,” and expects to see more and more applications introduced that may not necessarily be traditional fixed-line offerings. For example, Etisalat’s fixed-line users will soon be able to send and receive short message service (SMS). Using an SMS-enabled phone, users will be able to send messages between similar devices, mobiles, fax machines and e-mail addresses. Users will also be able to sign up to breaking SMS news alerts, or other high-value content. One of the main advantages Etisalat sees of running an NGN, besides reduced operating costs, are the extra services that can be offered over the network, such as TV. Full triple-play services are still in the lab-testing phase. “By the end of this year or the first quarter of 2006, we should see a commercial trial of triple-play services,” says Al Ramsi. Etisalat is also moving to offer its own push e-mail solutions early next year (see IT Weekly 12-18 November 2005). The UAE telco is already using its ‘E-mail on the Move’ solution internally, and will make it available to both corporate and mass market customers in the first quarter of next year, says Khalifa Hassan Al Forah, Etisalat’s mobile system engineering manager. Installing ‘E-mail on the Move’, as with most push e-mail solutions, will enable e-mails to be ‘pushed’ remotely through back-office servers, such as Office Exchange or Lotus Notes. A mobile workforce of corporate end users will be able to send and receive e-mails on their smartphones or PDAs, as well as accessing attachments and calendar applications. In an ambitious move, Etisalat is making the service work acr- oss a variety of devices from different vendors, giving it the potential to reach more users than a solution that is tied into only one manufacturer’s handset. Development is now close to completion, with Etisalat in the process of finalising integration of the technology platform with its technology partner. Al Forah declines to name the technology partner, saying it will be announced later this year. The telco clearly believes the solution will be a great success: “Who today doesn’t need to be in direct connection with their e-mail?” Al Forah asks. E-mail on the Move is a mobile application mainly used to enhance employees’ productivity in corporate environments, he claims. “The benefits are massive. It will add huge value to the market, since e-mail is one of the most required features of a workforce. That’s why it deserves most of our focus and attention,” Al Forah adds. Etisalat has also become one of the first operators in the region to commercially launch push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) services, utilising a solution provided by Nokia. Covering the entire UAE network, Etisalat expects PoC to be used at first in the country’s heavy industries, as firms in these sectors often have a need for regular communication. “Logistics, transportation and construction companies will particularly benefit from this [service] as they need to communicate between teams,” says Nasser Bin Obood, Etisalat’s deputy chief executive officer. And while 3G services are yet to be fully commercialised, Etisalat has already started introducing 3G data cards that can be inserted into laptops and offer users remote access to the internet at speeds in excess of 128Kbits/s. The data cards, manufactured by Huawei, connect through the 3G network where available, and through GPRS in areas where there is no 3G coverage to speak of. ||**||Solutions rollout|~|boardroombody.jpg|~|Mobile solutions allow workers to access data in the boardroom and outside the office. |~|Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and Wataniya of Kuwait have also started rolling out their own suites of enterprise solutions. At the beginning of July Qtel signed a US$24 million contract with Siemens as supplier of its core wide-band code division multiple access (WCDMA) network as well as the supplier of a portion of its universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) radio access network (UTRAN). In the first phase of the deployment, Qtel intends to construct a network with a capacity of 120,000 subscribers within the first two years of development. Coverage will initially be concentrated around greater Doha, and the operator believes this is the right time to commit to the project given the general reduction of 3G handset prices and the increased level of awareness of data services in local and regional markets. “The availability and cost of handsets has prohibited the growth of 3G services in the region but that is changing,” says Nasser Marafih, CEO of Qtel. The first 3G services in Qatar are set to become available before the end of this year, with the service proposition developed over time in the lead-up to the Asian Games, which is being held in Doha in December 2006. “There will be no need for subscribers to take out a new subscription when they move to 3G,” says Fahad Bin Jassim Al-Thani, executive director of Wireless Services at Qtel. The operator has plans to upgrade the WCDMA network to HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) in the second half of 2006, a move that would provide even greater capacity and bandwidth for data services. “Our WCDMA base stations come with HSDPA capabilities, so it is up to the operator when it decides to turn this capability on,” comments Soenke Peters, vice president and general manager of Siemens Mobile Networks Middle East. Meanwhile, Wataniya announced last June that it had enabled enhanced data rates for global evolution (EDGE) technology across its entire network and went on to organise a programme to allow all subscribers on the network — postpaid and prepaid alike — to upgrade their SIM cards to EDGE-enabled ones at no additional cost. Wataniya Telecom is also involved in continuing efforts to overhaul its network to become one of the most technically advanced in the region. Harri Koponen, Wataniya CEO and general manager, says the operator will deploy HSDPA technology during the course of next year, having deployed a UMTS network before the end of this year. Koponen describes his company’s move to HSDPA as leapfrogging current 3G technologies and moving ahead to 4G. “The gap in the time of delivery of 3G and 4G is so small, it makes sense to go straight to 4G,” says Koponen. The basis of Wataniya’s 4G vision was articulated at the end of May, when the operator announced its tie-up with Nokia for the implementation of advanced technologies that would enhance the operator’s network and take Wataniya ‘beyond 3G’. As part of the agreement, Nokia is supplying Wataniya with a wide variety of next-generation products including the HSDPA solution. “Very few services will have more than a 10% penetration,” says Kai Konola, strategy director at Nokia networks. “There are more than 300 operators around the world that have launched MMS (multimedia message service) and the expectation is that [the service] will reach critical mass during 2005, and perhaps that will ramp up this and other data services,” he gos on to say. Another area in which Wata-niya is vying to become a leader is with respect to IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology, which the operator is currently developing and testing. “IMS is set to be introduced ahead of the launch of 3G,” says Niklas Sonkin, Wataniya’s chief strategy office and director of bu- siness-to-business division (B2B). Should that occur towards the tail end of this year or early next, it would be one of the earliest commercial launches of IMS globally, he claims. “The whole B2B market is under-serviced in Kuwait. Globally, the B2B market has also not had the focus it should have had,” says Sonkin. “There are a lot of companies in the region that need mobile services but nobody is providing them. We are evaluating now what to do in that area in the coming years,” he adds. Like most operators in the region, Wataniya is actively targeting corporate users despite only 10% of its installed subscriber base of over 900 000 being postpaid. It is developing VPN products and has partnered with Canadian card supplier Sierra Wireless for the offer of EDGE-enabled PCMCIA cards for mobile data access for laptops. Finnish mobile enterprise solutions provider Smartner Information Systems has been contracted by Wataniya to develop push e-mail applications. “We are embarking on a three-pronged approach targeting corporate users,” says Wataniya’s Jukka Paasivaara, sales manager for corporate sales. “There are opportunities to develop value-added services for person-to-person communications, person-to-machine communications and multimedia solutions,” Passivaara adds. Smartner, which was acquired by US mobility solutions provi- der Seven in April, has also been chosen by MTC-Vodafone in Ba- hrain to deliver mobile office solutions to the enterprise and resi- dential markets in the region. Smartner delivered its Duality Always-On Mail product, which is based on push technology that enables real-time access to e-mail, calendar and attachments for standard smart phones. MTC-Vodafone was the first operator in the Middle East region to deploy the push solution in December 2004 and was expected to deploy the solution to its operations in Kuwait and Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon. MTC-Vodafone Bahrain is also offering nationwide WCDMA coverage to provide enterprises with high bandwidth. The operator has also introduced Mobile Connect Cards for remote access to e-mail, internet and corporate local area networks. Ismael Fikree, MTC-Vodafone Bahrain’s chief technology officer, describes the offer of the operator’s 384Kbits/s data cards as “very important” to its core offering. “There is no doubt that 3G is the future and what it depends on is the operator, on the market and on the business case,” Fikree says. MTC-Vodafone Bahrain has also launched a corporate push e-mail service and offers mobile VPN facilities. Batelco, another Bahraini-based telco provider, has come up with what it calls a ‘Mobile Office’ solution, which is based on internally developed software and offers users real-time access to smartphones. The operator also has a business-centric Wi-Fi service, which offers a wireless modem access point on the enterprise’s SpeedNet asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL). ||**||Mobile education and security fears|~|BlackBerrybody.jpg|~|BlackBerry has made its mark in the market by targetting mobile professionals.|~|But while service providers busy themselves with network overhauls to accommodate the added demand on their infrastructure, IDC’s Malaki believes that the enterprise market in the Middle East should be educated first about what mobility actually is and what potential benefits it offers before such solutions can be introduced aggressively. “There is a difference between mobility and wireless,” says Malaki. “Wireless is more the technology, the platform that enables mobility, while mobility is essentially the act of a workforce or an employee working away from his main office location,” he explains. IDC identifies three main categories of mobile workers: the non-office-based mobile worker, the office-based worker, and the home-based mobile worker — a section that IDC says is not all that prevalent in the region. The non-office-based category of the mobile workforce extends to employees such as mobile field workers and mobile on-location workers. Office-based mobile workers include mobile professionals, occasionally mobile staff and mobile non-travellers who are primarily office-based. “In the Middle East, there are pockets in organisations that have some kind of mobility,” says R Murlidharan, general manager, Al-Futtaim Electronics, Toshiba — the sole distributor of Toshiba products in the UAE. In Dubai, the Grand Hyatt and the Irish Village bar and restaurant, for example, have given PDAs to their waiters. Staff members are then able to take orders using these PDAs, which are hot-synced with the kitchen over a wireless LAN. Emirates Airline has deployed a mobile solution for its corporate sales force that gives access to information residing in various proprietary applications via their notebooks. “The idea is to enable salespeople — who are out in the field most of the time — to have the latest information every time they walk into a meeting,” says David Leckie, senior technical manager, Emirates Airline. Nearly 220 employees are using the application currently, which Leckie expects to increase to 500 in year’s time. Securing access devices as well as the networks over which the enterprise applications are transmitted remains one of the most important elements in ensuring the continued uptake of mobility services. “Worries about security are another big reason for the mobile initiative not taking off in a big way in the Middle East,” says Al Futtaim’s Murlidharan. Any security approach needs to take two types of threats into account. The small size and the mobile nature of these devices make them vulnerable to loss or theft. So it is important that all corporate data residing in the devices is encrypted. “The physical threat of theft is larger than the threat of electronic theft,” says Sascha Beyer, managing director of Pointsec Middle East and Africa. “More than 50% of penetrations to company networks are made through stolen devices,” he adds. The other risk surrounds malware (viruses) and data interception. “Although there has not been a major virus outbreak as far as PDA and smartphones go, we have been lucky so far. But you never know,” says Jarmo Hostio, senior sales manager, Nokia Enterprise Solutions. A provision for updating anti-virus software remotely by administrators could minimise the risk as users often forget to carry out updates. For securing in-transmission data, the corporate network can deploy a VPN to connect to mobile devices. Many devices now have VPN clients that help secure data while the device is talking to a corporate network. And if the device is accessing a browser-based application from the corporate server, even a VPN client may not be required if the company is using Secure Socket Layer (SSL)-based VPN. SSL, which is built into all web browsers, authenticates and encrypts transmitted data. Despite security concerns, the mobile enterprise is already becoming a reality. Enterprise-wide mobile solutions including mobile devices, wireless LAN infrastructure, associated software and professional services, make up a market estimated to be around US$16billion in 2004, according to IDC. Enterprises in the Middle East, like those across the world, shall need to tap the efficiencies generated through the offer of mobility solutions or risk being left behind by organisations that do so successfully. ||**||

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