3G wireless not just for big shots anymore

EV-DO, other advanced mobile-data technologies getting widespread corporate adoption

Baker says Sprint's mobile data cards have performed well for e-mail and for accessing client information stored at branch offices and the firm's time-and-expense and Web-based conference-call scheduling systems.

Connectivity has been "very, very good," Baker says. "I was one of the pilot users, and I was doing a lot of traveling. I even used it in Canada. We have yet to find an area where it hasn't worked well."

Baker says the reaction from users has been overwhelmingly positive. "I wish I could slow down the adoption rate," he says. "The issue now is figuring out who needs it."

Baker expects 100 of OPI's 1,600 employees to have EV-DO service by year-end. As the technology gets faster, he foresees using mobile data for the company's training videos rather than running them over LANs.

Baker's advice to other CIOs is to test EV-DO at company and customer sites before buying it -- and make sure to train users. "Have a good, solid telecommuting policy," he recommends. "Once one person has it, someone else will say they want it also. You need to have a solid foundation for deciding who gets it and you need to allocate costs."

EV-DO and other 3G technologies have picked up momentum in 2007 as carriers have rolled out coverage to all major U.S. metropolitan areas.

"From the evidence we've seen and the research we've done, there is absolutely a pent-up demand for 3G from enterprises," says Mike O'Malley, director of eternal marketing for Tellabs, which sells mobile wireless equipment to carriers. "That's because it offers Wi-Fi speeds or better, but unlimited roaming. People don't want to walk from Starbucks to Starbucks for connectivity."

Power users have been taking advantage of EV-DO and 3G for a few years, but it's only in the last six months that enterprises have decided to buy mobile data cards in volume and roll them out to large blocks of employees. With these purchases, CIOs are trying to integrate mobile data back into their network resources in a standard, secure way.

"It used to be that companies were rolling out Wi-Fi globally and 3G to their top 50 executives to get them connected," says Jim Szafranski, vice president of product management and marketing at Fiberlink. "Now it's grown from an executive or departmental solution to the point where IT executives are saying they want to turn it on for all 20,000 of their users."

At Adidas, "anybody in the organization who has a use for a BlackBerry, can have it," Oligmueller says. "The sales people want BlackBerries. They don't want to carry laptops because they are too heavy."

One of the biggest benefits for companies is the improved productivity of employees. "There are two great things about a BlackBerry: It allows you to recapture nonproductive time, and it allows you to turn an eight-hour employee into a 10- or 15-hour employee. And the employee is happier than they were at eight hours," Oligmueller says. "The wheel turns a lot smoother because everyone is available all of the time."

"CFOs are saying they see 30 percent more work out of their employees when they give them a laptop," Fiberlink's Szafranski says. "It's also good for business continuity. If you give people a laptop, they can keep working if there's a snowstorm or a real disaster."

Carriers are gearing up for continued growth in enterprise use of mobile data in 2008 and beyond. "There's probably around three million EV-DO cards out there today, and there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 million users of wireless," says Tim Donahue, vice president of business marketing at Sprint. "There's a great opportunity to proliferate this at a much higher level to other wireless users. . . . I don't see any reason for this to slow down. We are still on the front end of this curve."

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