Back to Basics for Mobile Portals
By David James, Thu Aug 01 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Mobile portals ? corporate ?home pages? on employees? mobile devices to give easy access to a company?s internal databases ? had been expected to be commonplace by now. So whatever happened to mobile portals?

Stock markets are not the only things that deflated in the past year. The hype for mobile portals – wireless access to a company’s enterprise portal – has all but disappeared.

From Hyper to Hypo

Not long ago, companies that had moved rapidly to set up fixed-line enterprise portals expected that a mobile portal would be an easy add-on, probably with WAP (wireless application protocol) over high-speed wireless connections. Now, however, those optimistic expectations have been overcome by cold realities: delays in the deployment of high-speed wireless networks, incompatible network technologies, the complexities and expense of integrating wireless technologies with an enterprise portal, a multiplicity of mobile devices and platforms, and the limited input capabilities and small display screens of handheld devices.

Now a number of downsized mobile portal solutions are emerging, reflecting these new realities. While they do not provide all the efficiencies, bells and whistles of fixed-line enterprise portals, they go a long way toward increasing the efficiency of a company’s out-of-the-office employees and partners.

Undercover Operations

One basic mobile portal solution is to facilitate an employee’s use of an enterprise portal while on the road or at home using a modem, cable or 802.11b wireless connection. BackWeb Technologies, a San Jose, California, technology company, is one of the leaders in this effort. BackWeb’s solution, says For its Polite Communications system, BackWeb charges a one-time license fee of $100 per user plus a setup charge of $15,000 to $30,000 depending on a company’s requirements. Implementation takes two to three months. No additional user equipment is required – employees use their existing laptops.

Nokia One is a hosted service for which typical costs, including carriers’ connection charges, are €20-25 per user per month, plus a one-time setup fee of about €14,000, which includes all necessary software, hardware, configuration and training. The service is operational within four to five weeks, and only about four days of setup effort is required of the company’s IT staff. No additional user equipment is required. Employees use their existing handheld devices.

WolfeTech’s Sigma service is normally hosted and administered by the client company but can be hosted by WolfeTech. There is a one-time license fee of $300 per user plus a setup charge of approximately $5,000. Additional fees are charged if WolfeTech hosts the service. Also, the client company pays for the user’s BlackBerry communicator (up to $500 each) and wireless connection costs (around $60 per month per user). The service can be operational within a few days.

Looking Ahead, Cautiously

BackWeb, Nokia One and WolfeTech each claims to have a mobile portal solution appropriate to the times, but they are cautious in their outlook. Braham sees BackWeb’s products as evolutionary, progressing to more interactive capabilities and useful with PDAs and mobile phones as well as laptops. “The laptop is still the mobile portal device of choice,” he adds. Pakkala sees Nokia One’s services as evolutionary, but primarily based on messaging. “One thing I would bet on: the most widely used mobile portal applications will be messaging-oriented, and different kinds of messaging applications will dominate.” And Jayaweera, asked what’s next for WolfeTech’s mobile portal services, replied, “We’re going to wait a while to see what works.”

As with today’s stock markets, it might be a while longer before the hype for mobile portals reappears.

David James is president of Business Strategies International, a San Francisco-based consulting and venture-development firm specializing in technology business opportunities.