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Technology is taking giant steps to make communications mobile almost anywhere. Helen Bradley looks at the latest mobile technology developments and explains the G jargon.

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A business person sitting in an airport lounge or the back seat of a taxi and not using a mobile device is a dying breed. It's almost de rigueur to lug around at least a mobile phone and laptop to ensure that every minute of the working day is productive. The mobile communications space is seeing rapid change as problems that previously plagued mobile workers are systematically being solved by new technologies. These new technologies run the full gamut from simple to complex and address everything from short battery life to providing broadband speed for mobile communications to just about everyone in this geographically diverse country.

Active ImageTo keep mobile users safe and charged up, Motorola has a suite of handy mobile tools ranging from headsets to ingenious chargers. The Motorola Bluetooth Headset H700 is a compact unit that can be used in either ear and which has orientation technology to ensure its volume controls are always upright. It can communicate with a phone at a distance of up to 30-feet freeing a user from needing to hold the phone, and its batteries offer up to six hours talk time or 200 hours standby time. It's universally compatible, so it works with any Bluetooth-enabled mobile device.

To avoid important business conversations being cut off by flat batteries, the Motorola Portable Power P790 provides power on the go. This mobile power source for handsets and headsets is small enough to fit in a purse or pocket and can be charged at the same time as the phone. When needed, it plugs into the phone or headset via the mini USB port giving up to two charges for the phone or 10 for the headset.Active Image

Addressing the need for staying safe while talking on the road is the Motorola Bluetooth Car Kit IHF1000. Once the car ignition is on it establishes a connection with up to four phones. It can dial when a user speaks the number and stores 20 frequently called numbers allowing for dialling by speaking the person's name. It announces incoming calls that have Caller ID and if the vehicle's sound system is compatible it mutes the sound while the call is in progress. When a user leaves the vehicle while on a call, it seamlessly transitions the call back to the handset.

For staying in touch on the road, there are a range of solutions from smart phones to internet conferencing tools. One of these is the new Palm OS-based Treo 680 which is a cost effective tool for mobile productivity. This fully featured quad-band smart phone has a full qwerty keyboard, a 320 x 320 pixel screen, and is ideal for business users. In addition to being compatible with all email solutions, including Microsoft Exchange Push Email and BlackBerry mail, its Documents To Go application lets users view, edit, and share Microsoft Word and Excel documents as well as view Adobe PDF files and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. "The Treo can also utilise third-party software to access applications such as behind firewall applications and applications I would only otherwise have access to if sitting at my desk, such as salesforce.com," says Geoff Anson, sales director for Palm Australasia. "The Treo is a true wireless office."

The Mio A701 is a tri-band GSM phone with a heap of other functions for just about every business need and then some. It has a GPS receiver and it is a PDA running Windows Mobile 5.0 which gives a user access to Office documents such as Word documents and Excel worksheets. It is also a multimedia device supporting a 1.3 megapixel 8x digital zoom camera and it can play MP3 movies.

Given the inroads that Skype is making in the VoIP market, it is perhaps not surprising to see the technology appearing in a business context. Where there is a need to use audio conferencing technology in a mobile situation tools such as the Polycom VoiceStation 500 are worthy of consideration. This Skype-certified phone is designed for the business environment and can be set up in an office or small conference room. Via its embedded Bluetooth wireless it can connect using Skype running on a PC or it can be connected to a regular POTS phone line. The system uses Polycom’s Acoustic Clarity Technology to provide high quality, full duplex group conferencing.

Active ImageFor computing on the go, you may think the choices are between a PDA and a notebook. That's not the case. Between these two is a new breed of UMPCs (Ultra Mobile PCs), such as the RaonDigital Vega 512 – Ultra Portable PC. This tiny computer is small enough to sit in your hand yet it runs a full version of Microsoft Windows XP. It has a tiny 93.6mm x 56.16mm touch-screen display with a resolution up to 1920 x 1440, and an onscreen virtual keyboard. It comes with a 30Gb hard drive and offers wireless WLAN connectivity using a supplied dongle (device to help use protected software). It has a battery life of up to 5.5 hours with the LCD on, 7.5 hours with it off, and makes a handy tool for working on the go and accessing the web and email.


Mobility Issues

Active ImageOne of the big issues in mobility over the past few years has been the difficulty in obtaining a truly mobile connection. While it was possible to connect outside the office using a WiFi hotspot at a hotel, airport or coffee shop, a user had to stop in that place to remain connected. This is no longer a problem, with a swag of solutions on offer including 3G and Next G (see breakout box). Another fully mobile solution is iBurst, which is a secure mobile broadband service for laptops—you simply plug the special iBurst modem into the USB, Ethernet or PC card slot in a laptop, and connect to the internet. Provided a user remains within the coverage area they can travel around without losing their connection, even at speeds of up to 100 km per hour. The iBurst coverage area currently includes most capital cities.

Government is also joining the broadband bandwagon and the NSW Government recently announced it would install a free wireless broadband network throughout the Sydney CBD and other major population centres by early 2008.

Of course, all the mobile communications in the world aren't worth much unless you have access to the data you need to do your work. Options for making data available to a mobile workforce include web-enabling data and allowing mobile access to a business' network. Companies like Brennan IT offer solutions that give secure access to a company's WAN using an iBurst mobile connection. "When a user connects to their WAN, they do so direct to the WAN and not via the internet so security is increased," Matthew Lovegrove, general manager, sales and marketing, Brennan IT explains. "From there, they have the same access to the company network and data as they would when working at the office."

At Salesforce.com the model is different and the entire company data is web-enabled so it can be accessed by anyone with a web browser and a laptop, PDA, or even a Blackberry. To deal with those situations where a mobile worker isn't able to connect such as on a plane, there is an offline edition allowing the user to download a briefcase of all their ac
counts, contacts, and opportunities, so they can work with them offline and then, when they next connect, these are automatically synchronised. Solutions like Salesforce.com offer the same level of access to corporate data as is available to someone sitting at a desk in the office.

Secure Mobile Connections

Along with mobility solutions comes the problem of managing and securing them. The security issues are many and range from the need for a secure connection for email and running applications across the internet to problems of theft and hacking. Security for mobile solutions is something many businesses are not yet tackling according to Mark Geddes, director of Mobility at Sybase Australia and New Zealand. "Although many businesses are web-enabling their data so it is accessible to people while they are mobile, they're not addressing the problems that arise when mobile workers are using applications in offline or disconnected mode and where the mobile user doesn’t have the security, management, and physical constraints of the office environment protecting them."

Sybase's Information Anywhere suite includes a security feature that protects remote devices from unauthorised access and other security vulnerabilities such as remotely wiping data from a lost or stolen device or disabling access to it so it's unusable. The suite can be remotely enabled so the user doesn't have to return to the office to get it installed. To address management issues, the suite includes a feature that lets the IT department centrally manage and support multiple mobile devices. Similarly, the BlackBerry, if managed using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server technology, gives secure access to your company email and corporate data and can also be remotely wiped if it is lost or stolen, thus protecting the data stored on it.

Perhaps the biggest question for a business is just what level of connectivity is required, particularly given the relatively high cost of fully mobile connections. Geddes cautions against getting caught up in the rhetoric which demands being always on, always connected. "Businesses need to suit the mobility solution to the job—simply giving someone a laptop and a mobile connection may not be what they really need," he says. "Many job functions need data refreshed only periodically, not in real time, and many mobile solutions have failed because they haven't taken into account that users aren’t always in an area that provides fast connection speeds. If an application doesn't work at slower GPRS connectivity speeds, they may not be able to either."

G Force Explained

If you can't tell your 3G and Next G from your GPRS, here's a quick primer:

Next G

Telstra's Next G network launched in October 2006 as a new mobile broadband solution. With speeds expected to reach the equivalent of a fixed broadband connection by March this year, Next G offers a coverage area of up to 98 percent of the Australian population giving it the largest coverage area of any provider. "Access to the Next G network is via a mobile broadband card in a laptop or built into a Next G phone or PDA. It's seamless, so you can be working on your computer using the internet while travelling around in a taxi, and it's very quick," explains Elizabeth Aris, managing director, Telstra Business division.


3G operates on the 2100mhz frequency (in contrast to the 850mhz used by Telstra's Next G), and is limited in access in major capital cities, large population areas and airports. It offers high speed access to the internet using an always-on connection with speeds up to 384kbps which is around one-third the speed of broadband. When you leave the 3G coverage area, you move to the GPRS system which gives access at dial-up speeds. So, while you remain connected almost anywhere in the country, you do so at the price of significantly reduced speed.

In most cases you'll need a 3G broadband modem to access a 3G network—these either plug into a USB port or a PC card slot. Operators using 3G include Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and 3.


GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is a data service offering speeds around that of a dial-up modem. Coverage is around 98 percent of Australia and it's typically accessed by people who don't live in a 3G coverage area or by a 3G user when they move outside their 3G coverage area.


HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) is a new technology which is becoming available on both the 3G and Next G networks and which increases the speed of uploads and downloads to near broadband speeds. Currently, Vodafone offers HSDPA on its Sydney and Melbourne networks with plans to extend this in future. The new range of notebooks from Lenovo include built-in 3G broadband with HSDPA connectivity from Vodafone, and so plug-in modems aren't required reducing the likelihood of a modem being lost or damaged and making the connection process almost seamless.

Safe and sound?

And speaking of doing business in taxi, do you take care of those ‘life saving’ mobile devices when on the move? A global survey from Pointsec Mobile Technologies, an enterprise encryption provider for mobile devices, reveals some interesting results for the ‘back-of-the-cab’ business movers and shakers.

According to the survey of 2000 taxi drivers over the last six months, mobile phones were the most commonly forgotten device left behind in a cab (London, 54,874, Bombay 32,970 and Sydney 6640 phones). Pocket PCs and PDAs ranked next (London 4,718, Washington 2,260 and Munich 1,902), with laptops also left behind (of the 314 lost in Sydney, 220 were returned to owners).

"This survey shows that no one is infallible and looking at this survey’s findings you look to stand a pretty good chance of losing a mobile device in a cab or indeed any public place," says Peter Larsson, Pointsec CEO. "Our advice is that if you have something valuable stored on your mobile device, then make use of all the security that comes with it or encrypt it."

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