Networking's greatest debates in Wireless

Including BlackBerry vs. Palm, Municipal Wi-Fi vs. 3G, CDMA vs. GSM and Wireless LANs vs. wired LANs

Corporate control of mobile devices vs. individual employee ownership

A recent survey on mobile workforce security confirmed what we've known for a long time. Giving your mobile employees notebooks and smartphones is like giving your teenaged kids the keys to the car: once they're out the door, there's nothing you can do about what they do.

A majority of the 450 IT managers surveyed by management software vendor BigFix say they believe the mobile workforce makes their enterprise networks more susceptible to malware and other threats. And in some cases, these IT managers think their existing systems management tools have contributed to mobile devices falling victim to a worm or virus.

Even more personal than the personal computer, handheld computers and smartphones (and even iPods) are also even more dependent on both the corporate network and intervening provider networks. So far, enterprise networks are ill-prepared to secure and manage the devices themselves, the data on them, or their access to corporate networks.

The issues in the argument are complex: end-user behaviors and habits, securing data on the devices, protecting the devices from malware infections, protecting the data on them if they're lost or stolen, monitoring data copying or file transfers to USB devices, streamlining access to the corporate network, integrating them with Network Access Control (NAC) products. Right now, companies have to stitch together an array of third-party software products and appliances to address this complexity.

This is one argument where the solution seems to be to find the common ground that makes a comprehensive solution possible.
John Cox

Research in Motion (BlackBerry) vs. Palm

Palm was the first to make a handheld computer practical, rather than a short-lived oddity. But Research in Motion, with its BlackBerry e-mail handheld, was the first to make it a necessity, as evidenced by the nickname given the device by its devoted users: "Crackberry."

RIM bored into the upper echelons of the white-collar professional market with an information service - wireless push e-mail - that these users found indispensable. Now, the Canadian company is working with a variety of form factors, including data-enabled smartphones, to push this success deeper and broader in the enterprise market and into the consumer market, where Palm has most of its success.

For the past year, after finally settling with patent nemesis NTP, RIM has been a revenue and profit machine, most recently for the second quarter of 2008 (ending September 1): quarterly revenues were US$1.37 billion, up 27% from the prior quarter (and more than double from a year ago), while net income was US$288 million compared with US$223 million for the prior period and US$140 million a year ago.

A massive BlackBerry service outage earlier in 2007 apparently has had no effect on subscriber growth, revenue, profits or its reputation. But in the consumer market, RIM faces much larger rivals such as Motorola and Nokia, both of whom have acquired wireless push e-mail capabilities themselves.

By contrast, Palm's quarterly results at the end of June were US$401 million in revenue, and US$15.4 million net income. Its cutting edge image for device design took a blow with the ill-fated Foleo device, announced earlier in 2007 and confusedly explained as a "mobile companion" to a user's smartphone. It was scrapped before seeing daylight a few months later. Palm is now focused on recrafting its PalmOS around a Linux kernel, betting on the market projections that show Linux-based handhelds taking off worldwide.
John Cox

Municipal Wi-Fi vs. 3G

Municipal Wi-Fi -- understood as an outdoor Wi-Fi blanket of wireless mesh nodes -- was touted, with new millennium fervor, as the means to bridge the digital divide, spur economic development miracles, and sidestep the telco/cable oligarchy that was choking money out of consumers for Internet access. And doing it all on the cheap with 802.11 wireless gear.

But in 2007, municipal Wi-Fi projects began to stumble. Some dissolved in political battles, as in San Francisco. Others failed when network providers began to balk at terms and conditions demanded by municipal authorities. Still others (at least so far) have simply not realized their promise, with subscribers and subscriber growth far below projections.

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Network World staff

Network World

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