IBM barges into mobile Net market (too)

A cool one billion dollars to grab its share

Never one to come late to the party, IBM has finally joined the other throngs in the wireless market. And, according to its PR, it's gonna put its money where its mouth is. That's right, one billion smackeroonies (that's dollars) is to be pumped into a range of programmes/initiatives/call em what you will and these will turn you into an overnight wireless success story.

We can't be sure it's $1 billion and we can't tell you how much is going where but then that won't surprise you. So what are these grand plans? A new IBM mobile organisation called SIMI (solution integration for market infrastructures). Then there's 4,000 new service professionals by 2002 who will know everything there is to know about mobile technology (part dragged from the e-business department and the rest recruited from the market apparently (really? we asked VP Val Rahmani. Are there 2,000 people in the open market? People are contacting us, Val assured us).

What else? Partnerships of course. And plenty of them:, Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, Palm, Symbian, Cisco are the biggies. In fact, while we were in IBM Central, we figured we'd ask just what the deal behind these incessant partnerships were. Needless to say, we didn't get an answer.

Product Investment. You're nowhere without product investment. Basically, IBM is tweaking its existing core products to click in with the wireless world - the main focus is its all-in-one WebSphere software. It also reckons its ViaVoice (voice recognition) will be key to the future as people grow tired of tapping on yet more buttons (faces dropped when we recalled our experience with the software: "Curtain. No, curtain. No, not 'no clear train', curtain! I said f***ing curtain!")

Coming back. A Solution Centre (ugh). This will be Hotbed Central for getting all the bits and bobs working. "These systems and platforms will use IBM's Web Servers" - we never doubted it. And our personal favourite: SWAT teams. Now you all know they mean rapid response units* - the idea is that they'll appear in a big van, rush in and have you up and running with mobile technology before you can say "The A-team".

Why is IBM going to storm this expanding market? Val was happy to tells us. IBM, you see, is the only company that can give you the whole kit and caboodle - from database to PDA. It has vast experience in e-business and that will set it in good stead, it's working on open standards and is working with the big boys, it is setting up and helping smaller ISVs (independent software vendors), and let's face it, it's got some money and expertise behind it.

We'll have a look at this point by point. It would seem as though, yes, IBM is the only one that can deal with the whole lot in one go. The question is, is this as much as an advantage as it would appear to be? It's not as though the computer industry hasn't worked out that working closely with others doesn't pay off. Val quite rightly points out that threads of partnerships are stretching their way through the whole system, but how can you gauge which actually produces a better end result?

In one sense, IBM's one-man show may make life simple, stable and hence budgetable and often cheaper. On the other, smaller players in competitive markets may offer the best and/or cheapest products - tie these together et voila, a better arrangement. There's also the issue that your gonna need IBM kit through and through. Val implied you wouldn't but we just don't believe it.

Unfortunately we can't give you any figures for all this either. Of all the people in the market we've spoken to, not one will give us a figure for their service. The first company to actually give us a rundown of the costs it charges to run its business will be given a Reg T-shirt and pin.

Partnerships? True, IBM has some good uns (if it didn't, you'd be worried). It is also in the lucky position of being so large that it can work with more than one key player in a market - this is clearly a distinct advantage. ISVs? Ach, we leave that for now.

All in all, we think IBM is going to do a grand job. It's working behind big corporates to tie their existing data to modern communications and being IBM, it will steal a good chunk of the market just by sitting on its arse. However, we think it'll do better than can be reasonably expected and we think that for almost esoteric reasons.

What are we going on about? Of all the endless (and often tedious) conversations we've had with people in this "space", not one person has ever managed to persuade us of WAP's usefulness. We've always said it'll happen in the end but no one knows how. However, during our conversation with Val she came up no less than six very workable ideas. Amazing as it may sound, few have ever been able to answer our blunt "So give me a use now" question. For this reason alone, IBM demonstrated it was ahead of the crowd. If it maintains that, the future's bright, the - hang on, that's Orange.

Those WAP ideas you told us about

  • Phone Directory. Save you having to return to PC and/or open address book. Very useful.
  • Calendar. Simply enough for WAP. Allows for checking on the move.
  • Urgent Email. Pulls emails marked urgent and shows topic line on phone.
  • Catalogues. Next stage up from now. Good for salesmen.
  • Tying in customers. The example given was a garage. Give the garage your details and request a message when the next service is due. You don't have to worry and the garage keeps a customer.
  • Educational spot tests. Simple multiple choice questions can be answered on the way back from night school on the bus. This saves time and effort.

We're not saying these are the greatest ideas in the world but they are practical - and that's a step forward. ®

* - but this, alongside with xxxx-gate, really drives us nuts. SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics, and consists of highly trained people with guns, dealing with baddies. Now, a sharp IBMer would say Big Blue's gear are "special tools" and it's all "tactics" in business. But then we'd call them a smartarse. As for the stupid obsession of ending every scandal with "gate" we have no sympathy and will shoot on sight. The offices were called "Watergate"- that's it. What if it had been called The Humberdick?

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