|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||Application Provisioning for the Mobile Workforce|
|Title:||Vice-President Product Management|
Mr Pontus Axelsson, the Vice-President Product Management at Appear Networks, is widely experienced in the wireless and technology sector. He has been involved in major innovations in the market. He convinced Motorola and Swedish GSM network operator Tele2 to fund a project to build the world’s first WAP unified messaging application. More recently, he has worked for the Swedish wireless startup Goyada AB as VP of Product Management and as Chief Technical Officer. Mr Axelsson holds a Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm and was recently a delegate of the WAP Forum.
Web browsing is and will continue to be, a vital part of the way wireless services are used, but it needs a strong partner delivering applications that work both online and offline. Mobile workforces require true mobility and will often prefer powerful handheld devices to the traditional desktop computer in order to carry out assigned tasks away from their desks. Standardised software will inevitably lead to the development of more applications for handheld devices, such as application provisioning.
Web browsing is and will continue to be, a vital part of the way wireless services are used, but it is evident that it needs a strong partner delivering applications that consume less battery time and work both online and offline. This suggests a shift in wireless thinking, away from the traditional wireless Internet browsing model and towards a model centred on provisioning of full applications. Important to remember is that communication systems should also be able to take the new dimension of physical location into account when distributing applications: some applications may be exclusively provided in certain areas only. The wireless arena today is very fragmented, with several different access technologies and a variety of handheld devices. These facts, combined with the differences between users of desktops and mobile devices, lead to a number of key features that should be provided by application provisioning solutions. Application provisioning can be divided into six consecutive steps (Figure 1): Step 1, Device detection, when a user equipped with a wireless device enters into network coverage Step 2, Service discovery, when the client and server negotiate and decide which services the client can access Steps 3 to 5, Download, install and execute application, when the user selects an application to use and it is automatically installed, configured and started Step 6, Discard application, when the user leaves the network. All of these steps must be supported by an application provisioning solution. Furthermore, they must be performed without unnecessary user interaction – advanced client side intelligence is clearly needed to perform the entire chain of events automatically. Mobile workforces require true mobility and will often prefer powerful handheld devices, data-enabled handsets or tablet computers to the traditional desktop computer in order to carry out assigned tasks away from their desks. In the future, hand-held devices will use more data and, therefore, the role of these devices and the requirements on the hardware will undergo profound changes. A maintenance worker walks up to a train set that he or she is supposed to service and uses a wireless device to look for available applications. The application provisioning system automatically detects his or her presence and notifies the maintenance worker of available applications by showing them as new icons on the PDA. The maintenance worker sees that one of the icons represents the service manual for this particular train set and clicks on it to automatically download and install an interactive guide showing what to do. As the maintenance worker leaves the area after completing the work, the service manual is automatically removed from the handheld device to save space and to avoid using out-of-date information later. Optional storage should also be available since the maintenance worker might want to use the application offline as well. Deployment scenarios To understand fully the need for application provisioning it is necessary to examine how it will evolve over the next few years. Despite the technical benefits of new personal Internet architectures, user behaviour takes time to change and it will be a long time before even more powerful devices will be readily available to mainstream consumers. However, large-scale enterprise deployments are happening already, focusing on using mobile workforce applications to increase productivity. Over time, development cycles for wireless applications will be dramatically shortened and produce an avalanche of applications for handheld devices and data-enabled handsets. Enterprise deployments are likely to drive the market for devices and application provisioning for quite some time. During this period, the following factors are fundamental to understanding how devices will be used, how applications will be provisioned and how wireless networks will be deployed. Enterprises themselves will own the wireless networks The venues or enterprises themselves will own the wireless networks, not large carriers. Since they have power over what can be installed, they will make sure they reap the benefits of wireless networking while retaining full control. The enterprises will use hotspots, not wide area networks Cellular networks and hotspots will co-exist and provide coverage and broadband access, respectively. Applications will be downloaded and installed in hotspots while information and data will be updated when outside hotspot coverage. The semi-mobile workforce will benefit Applications will initially be used for saving cost and improving productivity in the workforce. This is especially true for enterprises with a large semi-mobile and task-oriented work force moving around within a confined area where wireless local area networks can be installed. Handhelds will be used, not just laptops Mobile workforces require true mobility – not portability – and will often prefer powerful handheld devices, data-enabled handsets or tablet computers. Application provisioning will be key, not service provisioning Just providing wireless access is not enough; services sought after by the users will not be limited to web pages, but include full applications as well. In fact, some enterprises already have applications deployed and lack only the application provisioning component. The workforce benefits and the cost savings achieved by distributing productivity applications to employees, is enough to get return on the application provisioning investment. In three to five years time, when low cost personal devices have penetrated the mainstream market, the network owner can open up the network for public use and generate new revenues. This is especially true in the public transportation and hospitality industries, where companies have many end-users. Workspots: a working solution An example of these factors in action is provided by proprietary provisioning servers. These are software platforms currently used by major operators to deploy value-added services in wireless-enabled zones, such as airports, subway stations, or conference venues, where visitors and local workers can discover and download new applications over-the-air, in one single click, using ‘click to use’ software technology. Such technology enables any communicating mobile device to discover, load and run applications available locally in one simple click. It is ideal for local mobile workers as well as for visitors to public hotspots. Conclusion Personal Internet user architectures will inevitably lead to the development of more applications for handheld devices, such as application provisioning. The differences between the needs of those using Internet services from a small handheld device over a wireless connection and those accessing the Internet on a desktop or laptop computer, will drive the development of special full-scale applications for use on handheld devices. Such applications will allow handheld devices to be used for more than simple access to web pages and expand the scope of Internet and Intranet usage.