Device Management for Consumers
By Steve Wallage, Wed Mar 05 14:00:00 GMT 2003

Help is on the way for that precious data when your mobile device is stolen.

Large enterprises are starting to be offered a number of solutions that can provide mobile device management. This can include such elements as central control of mobile software distribution and updates, system configuration and device inventory for desktops, laptops, servers and handhelds.

For the poor consumer this has seemed a long way away. As many users have found to their cost, allowing the batteries to run down can lead to the loss of critical data. As the mobile device becomes the repository for more important data, then this becomes a real problem. Current solutions vary from the unwieldy method of PC synchronization to the almost Neanderthal way of writing down key information. As the recent Orange SPV hacking case illustrates, security is also an issue.

For operators, sorting out problems for consumers, such as needing to update settings, can be a nightmare. Even sending out individual SMS messages to consumers is not guaranteed to succeed given the different settings and configurations that users have implemented. This is also a very crude method, as the operator has no way of knowing the user configuration.

Enter start-up Cognima. They used the 3GSM Congress in Cannes to showcase their Replicate technology. This enables immediate and automatic replication of device data and settings through the wireless network to a secure server. This is completely invisible to the user. It means that any data loss can be immediately restored or, alternately, if the device is stolen then all personal data can be removed. For operators, it means whole new configuration settings can be sent simultaneously to subscribers' devices.

For Simon East, CEO at Cognima, the key target area is the consumer mass market. They are speaking to both operators and handset manufacturers. With operators, they have one major trial currently underway with another four or five that are planned. On the handset side, they can work with the Symbian OS, Smartphone 2002 and the Palm OS. Demonstrations at Cannes were with the Nokia 7650, which showed replication of contacts and photos. They have also agreed a deal with mobile applications company, TTPCom, which provides a relationship with over 50 mobile device manufacturers globally including Siemens, Sharp and Toshiba.

The solution provides operators with the opportunity to reduce costs, increase customer service (in some cases, by solving problems before customers become aware of them) and increase loyalty.

The Obstacles

To make this attractive to operators, Cognima needs to get its technology installed in handsets. East claims that operators tell him that they have 'no competition' in doing this. The Cognima technology has a small footprint taking up just 70kb of data, to try and overcome handset vendors' concerns over the impact on performance and battery time. Cognima is also trying to get the operators to push the handset manufacturers to install the technology. However, all this is an enormous challenge for a start-up.

Cognima has done a number of focus groups with consumers to gauge their acceptance. Interestingly, they found that consumers were initially concerned with operators holding personal data, but, with hindsight, became less worried. The reason was that they figured the operators already held lots of personal data about them.

A bigger concern was being locked in by an operator who was managing data for them. East at Cognima believes that operators would need to assure users that they would not make it difficult for them to take this data to a new operator.

Security was not deemed to be so much of an issue and the Cognima technology does offer end-to-end security.

The Enterprise Challenge

Cognima are clearly focused on the consumer market, although they will look to work with systems integrators to offer their technology to enterprises.

Enterprises are looking to make the same RoI (return on investment) emphasis on mobile devices, as they have consistently done on the IT side. Enterprises need to support increasingly large numbers of mobile workers, and a wide variety of mobile devices. As with PCs, they want similar interfaces, software and centralized control. This provides clear cost savings, improved performance and security. It is also a critical component of deploying enterprise mobile applications. One added benefit is asset tracking, allowing the IT department to track and measure the usage of all mobile devices. This often leads to cost savings as it becomes clear where under utilization is taking place.

A large number of companies have targeted this market including Sybase (iAnywhere subsidiary), IBM, Microsoft and Motorola (Starfish subsidiary). One operator trialling this technology is Vodafone in the UK, which is working with IBM and Motorola to minimize the enterprise customer costs associated with service delivery and support. The aggressive pursuit of this market by large IT vendors is ensuring high awareness among enterprises.

The Future Opportunities

Cognima see a number of enhancements in the coming year. They include ways of encouraging users to have multiple devices, with the ability to share data between different devices. Data can also be shared between named users.

For enterprises, mobile device management, although not without its challenges, can have a quick payback. Most enterprise solutions also include such elements as enhanced security and asset tracking. The penetration of mobile device management among enterprises is likely to rise strongly.

For consumers and operators, there are clear benefits. Cognima claim they will have deals by the end of 2003 to put the technology on mass-market handsets. However, the process is likely to be slow with operators trialling different aspects of the technology.

The one catalyst for adoption would be the adoption of a standard. One route could be the SyncML Initiative. The group has published a set of device management specifications designed to promote universal synchronization of remote data across multiple networks, platforms and devices.

Steve Wallage works and writes for the451. Steve has more than 13 years of experience as a technology analyst specializing in telecommunications.