Destination: The Mobile Enterprise

On November 24, an FCC order brings ‘number portability’ into most of the US. Users will be able to keep their phone numbers if they switch carriers, even landline to wireless. The industry expects big churn among cellular users, and also among the US households switching to wireless. 

With competition in telecom itself just eight years old in India, we’re unlikely to see number portability for some years yet. But telecom changes here have been incredible enough, even before the recent steps toward a unified license. 

India is mobile. Schoolkids to salesmen, drivers to fishermen, all carry phones. Seven of the 10 million new phones last year were mobile. Delhi has more mobiles than fixed lines. Cellular contributed 17% of India’s $10 billion telecom services pie. It’s a consumer revolution.

So how does the enterprise fit in?

Not very well, so far. Information flow is at the heart of the enterprise. Yet, given the cellphone’s digital capabilities, it’s used surprisingly little–except as a phone.

The biggest reason is the low use and experience of mobile technologies by the enterprise. Palmtops are invisible, laptops under 2% of all PCs. 

Part of the blame lies with service providers. They’ve done very little to promote data services, SMS-to-e-mail gateways (AirTel’s rarely works, for instance), anything that doesn’t give them quickie returns. That’s shortsighted. Large corporate accounts could be swung on the basis of reliable and affordable data services. SIs and other services companies, too, have been slow to step in.

Then there’s our government. While the US’ FCC adds 255 MHz–80%–to the unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz range this month, India still mostly regulates even the 2.4 GHz range. Our government has killed Wi-Fi. Out of sheer ignorance.



Still, I’d put most of the blame on the enterprise itself. India’s nothing if not innovative, from a lifetime spent in shortages and restrictive monopolies. We can work our way around what we don’t have.

Forget expensive palmtops with 802.11b. Here’s a readymade mobile client device: the cellphone. It’s free (employees already have it). It’s data-ready (everyone uses SMS these days). You need no rocket science to integrate mobile clients into an enterprise app like CRM. It takes little more than an SMS gateway (not necessarily your own) and minor customization to let your salespeople send on-the-fly reports over SMS, updating your sales data without waiting for the
DSR.

As always, there are pioneers, companies providing such solutions, and enterprises using them. Not many, but they’re making a beginning. And banks have run SMS services for years. The enterprise is going mobile, but it will be another year before most CIOs figure that out. 

Prasanto K Roy

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