The five biggest worries about mobile data

Concerns about EV-DO, 3G that keep network executives up at night

Worry number 4: Standardization

Companies are moving toward standardization for mobile devices, but the rapid pace of technological change makes this goal difficult to achieve.

Most enterprises consolidate their laptop purchases and standardize on particular models and configurations. A growing number of companies standardize on particular handhelds, too, such as BlackBerries. But companies are still supporting a range of cell phone devices. Increasingly, companies are trying to adopt standard EV-DO or 3G cards for these cell phones.

One issue that makes standardization hard is how fast cellular technology is changing. By the time an IT department issues an RFP and chooses a configuration, it's outdated. "It's a challenge keeping up with the technology," iPass's DePaoli says. "The second you buy one of these 3G cards, there's a better technology coming out. That's the frustrating part for an organization. They get sold by the vision of a carrier, but then they get locked into a two-year contract."

The benefits of standardization include volume discounts for devices and lower help-desk support costs for common devices.

"The key thing that has slowed the growth of 3G a little bit is that 3G cards are always tied to carriers," DePaoli says. "You've got a three- to four-year lease cycle with your laptops. You don't want to embed a wireless card, which you're changing out every 12 to 18 months. So most people are using PCMCIA cards."

Another benefit of standardization is "simplification," Orange Business Services' DeMarco says. "For a global multinational, with offices and employees on the street in multiple countries, it becomes cumbersome and complex for the enterprise to go out and develop contracts and relationships with individual providers in each country to source mobile data cards."

It's still an outstanding question in the industry whether 3G cards will end up embedded in laptops and other mobile devices as has happened with Wi-Fi.

Fiberlink's Szafranski sees a shift toward USB-based 3G cards rather than PCMCIA cards. "The USB form factor seems to be working well as corporations are getting more and more users onto wide-area wireless," he says.

Still, what corporate customers want most is standard 3G cards that work in any country regardless of carrier. "You can standardize on a regional level, but everyone is looking for a global solution," Szafranski says. "The opportunity for Fiberlink is that whether the regions are different or the networks are different, the end users' screen looks the same. The security overlay, the compliance overlay -- all works the same."

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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