Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Microsoft launches device management server initiative

Even though Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform has very small market share, compared to Nokia's Symbian, Microsoft has no option but to compete in the device management space, especially after Nokia bought Intellisync (the device management company), and Motorola bought Good Technology.
And rightly so. Mobile device management will become critical part of any enterprise IT infrastructure as the PDAs get cheaper (Palm Centro) and sometimes are the only computing device in the developing world. Even consumer's would like to manage their own devices at basic level, in terms of backup of contacts, moving contacts from one device to another, moving content from one to another device etc.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Will Vonage's wireless services strategy succeed?

Vonage is planning to offer wireless services in second quarter of 2007. Since Vonage has been facing stiff competition from cable companies in VOIP space, it is looking to diversify its service offerings, and provide a bundle of services, and essentially become an MVNO that provides mobile services along with VOIP. We all know successful MVNOs including Virgin Mobile, that just play in mobile space.

MVNOs are about brand, and a segment of the user base to which carrier does not want to market or support. Virgin Mobile plays to the young audience and offers phones targeted to that segment of the market. Vonage is going to offer services to general consumers and small businesses, and that is very price sensitive market. Vonage will compete with the likes of Comcast, that provides all the services what Vonage is thinking of providing. If Vonage can not add any other differentiators to its service, it will have hard time selling its service.

Other than bundling its VOIP software on mobile phones, Vonage will have to provide other mobile device management functions and mobile applications that make the user's life easier. I would love to see applications like easy location based content share.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What is in Palm's future?

The pioneer of PDAs is rumored to be up for sale, according to this story on engadget.com. Of course what is interesting is not that Palm is up for sale, rather who the buyer will be. Lots of names doing the rounds, including usual suspects like Motorola, Microsoft and Nokia. Some even suggest HTC (the phone manufacturer itself).

Question is - what is up for sale? Ever since Palm started shipping phones using Windows Mobile, the Palm OS was dead right there. Hardware is not an issue in any case, because that is already outsourced. What is up for sale then, is Palm brand. The brand itself has taken a lot of beating in last few months and years, and certainly its value has diminished. But it is still a recognized brand.

Probably most of the above mentioned phone makers will not be interested in Palm. In this fixed-mobile convergence, enterprise mobility age, it would not surprise me if a company like HP or Dell might be interested in Palm brand. Remember HP bought BitPhone (mobile device management software vendor), and then turn around and sell complete enterprise solution.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Are device makers gearing to compete with carriers?

Ed Sim of BeyondVC has an interesting observation about Nokia's free mapping program, that Nokia is gearing up to compete with its most valuable channel - carriers. Nokia could not just be doing this because carriers are going to Taiwan to get private-labeled phones, and thus put pressure on Nokia's device margins. There is something larger at play here. Certainly carriers have a lot of muscle, and they control the wide area wireless networks. However, municipal WiFi and mesh networks (even though very small and spotty for the moment) are disruptive technologies for Internet access and voice (VOIP) and these technologies could cause problems for carriers in the future. Subscribers will be able to buy devices like Skype phone and connect to these networks for voice and data. Carriers will have less influence on the subscribers, but device makers will still be in the business of making devices for access. Device makers will certainly be able to offer direct services through their portals, other than vocie and data. Even though there are still issues about business models around free networks, but they are still very disruptive technologies. These technologies can turn carriers into just data pipes.
Nokia's acquisitions of Intellisync, Loudeye and now free mapping program are preparations for that coming world.
Is that what Nokia and other device makers are preparing for?

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Is there a need for WiFi alliance like body for enterprise device management?

Daniel Taylor had a thought provoking post on his weblog, where he argues why a Standards Development Organization like WiFi Alliance is needed for enterprise device management standards. His argument that OMA DM is designed for carrier’s supply chain is very valid. Even though there are device makers on the OMA membership list, they also go with what makes sense for the big carriers, because carriers are the only channel and user of their devices. As long as carrier controls the device, it is going to be hard for an enterprise specific device management standard to gain momentum. If the devices are liberated from carriers (see my post about unlocked phones), and device makers are in control of how devices are brought to market (just like 802.11 devices are done today), the support for enterprise device management standard certification will be higher.

Certainly WiFi is very popular standard, and almost all client devices work with access points, in a plug-and-play manner. I think the reason for WiFi’s success is because it is a standard at access layer, where there is just a single function involved, and that is how to provide secure access to the enterprise network infrastructure. The WiFi devices do not have standardized management functions such as user authentication, device wipe, lock, reset, over the air updates. WiFi devices do not have active users trying to do things to these devices, and changes the need for management requirements of these devices.

Read all of my comments on Dan's blog.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Will "unlocked cell phones" drive mobile device management?

The CNET story provides an interesting insight into the unlocked cell phone market. As $20 range unlocked cell phones appear, people will be able to afford to carry multiple cell phones, yet would like to share data on all of his phones, including carrier's service, PIM etc. It would be a different kind of service from carriers where subscribers would pay $50 per month for service, yet would be able to use any phone to access the network out of 2 or 3 phones they own. Yes, I am aware of issues like which phone to ring when incoming call comes in, but I am it is as easy as ringing cell phone and wired phone at the same time, as carriers are starting to do today.

Even if the above scenario does not play out, subscribers would like to move their unlocked phones with them when they move from their current carrier to the new one. However, even though unlocked phones will make voice calls on the carrier's network, many features may not work as they work on the phones purchased from carrier directly, simply because the carrier's networks are built "a" little differently, even if they are GSM. For example, T-Mobile phones, when unlocked will not work properly on Cingular's network for all the services.

I also agree that the Voice over WiFi and Mesh Networks would make it harder for carriers to keep the current business model, 
as subscriber's would be able (and like) to make most calls on these low cost networks, and bypass the carrier's network. And those networks would behave more like
wired Internet, where one can buy any device and connect to the network.

And that is where lies the opportunity.

A new kind of business can emerge where retail stores can offer service to configure cell phones for new carrier. Of course the new carrier would also like to offer this service, as a way to get the customer. The service would offer applying carrier specific patches, without losing subscriber's personal data. That can be achieved by first backing up all the user data, applying the patch and then restoring user data.

Unlocked phones also means carriers are not in control, and hence the real competition is between handset makers, thus driving the cost of handsets even further down and providing a large choice. The handset makers may jump into device management service business and thus own the subscriber. They can provide self service portals for subscribers to configure the device for the carrier they desire. They can also layer other device management services like backup and restore, device data migration when subscriber buys new device. One can also imagine device leasing companies, that provide all of the above services, with device insurance as well.

Since Asia and Europe are large markets for unlocked phones, where more than 70 percent of phones are sold outside of carrier, the market for such a service is large there. And we might see any one of these services succeed there first.


What Would Symantec Do About Mobile Device Management?

Since Nearly half of the revenue of Altiris comes from services business, this acquisition brings Symantec into security services business for serving enterprise market.
Certainly it makes sense for Symantec to move in remote end point management services business, and combine its security products with Altiris PC management products. But what is still missing is a mobile device management piece, because the mobile device market is poised for large growth, as Smart Phone platforms become mainstream and UMPCs are launched. While Symantec has been moving into the mobile security space, it still does not have any mobile device management piece. Would Symantec build that part of the equation or is another acquisition in order?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Enterprise MVNOs should embrace device management?

 While the debate for enteprise MVNOs is still not settled, and the business models are still being tested, it is clear to me that enterprise MVNOs can not compete on brand-only like Virgin Mobile and AMP'd. While competing just on price is too risky in consumer MVNO space as well, it is even riskier in enterprise space, where the cost pressures are too great, especially in SMBs. The ever increasing cost of doing business, including health care and oil, is already straining the bottom line of SMBs, and the competition keeps them from raising prices. Thus, the only place where the cost has to be reduced is in optimizing business processes. In this networked world, business processes depend on communication infrastructure. Thus the onlyway to have optimized business processes is to have a streamlined, cost effective communication infrastructure. And while telecom industry tends to use FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence or Wired-Wireless Convergence) as a buzz word, I like to forget wireless or wireline convergence issues and simply focus on cost of communication as the driving factor in all these initiatives. In enterprise space, the large component of cost of communication is still carrier's monthly bill. And as the consolidation has happened in mobile carrier space, they seem to have even lesser incentive to cut the bill, in fact some have been increasing it (read recent SMS rate hikes from Cingular and Verizon). While VOIP is putting pressure on wireline carriers' traditional voice and voice related services revenue, their prices have not dropped sharply, largely because the industry is very mature anyway.

As VoWLAN picks up and cities cover their business parks with free WiFi networks (that is another way of enticing businesses to come open a shop in your city), SMBs will be the first ones to try out these free or tax break related services. But at the same time, the need to manage the devices that move between multiple networks (both free and paid, open and closed) would go up. No matter how seamless the phone manufacturers make their phones to move between these networks, the need for secure access policies, troubleshooting would still remain and perhaps increase. In those cases, where an application would work on closed network and would either fail or not perform on a free network (I can count many reasons why that might happen), the end user would not know who to call and how to resolve the issues.

And that is whare enterprise MVNO play will happen. But what should MVNOs offer other than consolidated carrier bill and bandwidth sharing across all enterprise users? I believe enterprise MVNOs can provide device manage as value add. Here are the service that I think enterprise MVNOs can provide a comprehensive device management solution-
  • Enterprise class help desk - using remote view and control capabilities across all enterprise mobile devices
  • Periodic and on-demand backup of corporate data from enterprise devices, without touching the personal content of the user on the device.
  • Encrypting corporate content only, thus preventing data theft.
  • Inventory in-field devices for application licenses for compliance with licensing requirements
  • Wipe out corporate data remotely from stolen devices, to protect against data theft
  • Since the line between personal and enterprise devices is very thin in SMBs, manage seamless mobility of devices between enterprise and home networks. The end user perhaps would like a single button press approach to switch between home to enterprise networks. The device management systems have to manage all the network access configurations behind the scene, without breaking the user's home network access settings.
  • Provide Managed Services for device lifecycle management, right from buying the devices for enterprises, to stocking to RMAs, to device migration from older to newer models.
  • Provide behind the firewall connectivity for all types of devices, not just BlackBerries.
  • Manage multiple enterprise network access policies.