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Analysis The majority of employees use their employer-supplied mobile phone in preference to a land line, even when sitting at their desk. Quocirca research in 2004 indicated that 55 per cent of IT decision makers across Europe believed this was a frequent occurrence. This may well be an optimistic under-estimate. The mobile phone is used because it offers a more convenient user experience providing easy access to contact details. This leads to an increased dependency on those details.

There is a portability issue when users want or need to change handsets for end of life replacement, to get more applications, better screen or keyboard, more memory or just the latest style. At one time all users worried about when switching between providers was how to get their new phone number to all their contacts. Number portability has fixed that, but the increasing functionality of handsets is creating a new problem - the portability of the overall user experience.

First the amount of data stored. In a recent survey conducted with The Register, over 80 per cent were using wireless and mobile technologies for remote access, so it’s not a question of how much data, but where it’s used that is a challenge. Storing centrally and syncing periodically fixes several problems, but with few standards for application formats, there is still data to migrate when upgrades or replacements occur, frustrating for users, and costly for businesses.

Next applications and user interface. It was bad enough when a simple phone menu changed, but with sophisticated iconic user interfaces, and an increasing number of helpful "applets" forming the mobile handset experience, changing handsets increasingly needs user training and more burden on support. The highly-fragmented nature of the handset market only exacerbates the issue. Businesses need a level of consistency across a growing range of mobile devices with diverse functionality.

The upgrade market is fuelled by the business needs of suppliers - for a handset vendor it means increasing sophistication and features for differentiation and replacement sales, for an operator it’s an opportunity to gain incremental revenues from services exploiting the new handset capabilities.

However, upgrades to an IT manager mean a series of headaches. There is backward compatibility and data migration for a start, followed by a user education and deployment phase. It’s something they have come to grips with for regular IT systems, but mobile handsets just bring a new set of challenges, and they need some help.

Initially operators feared number portability would help current customers move to a new supplier. Improving the portability of data and user experience between handsets might be seen as a threat too, but the increasing challenge of handset upgrades is an opportunity for operators to offer services that remove the pain associated with the process.

Device management is a service that operators could deliver which adds to the underlying connectivity, and is of value to their business customers. There are many ways to deliver such a service, from expanding the role of the on-handset SIM, through to enterprise content hosting and user self service portals. The technology approach is less important however than taking over some of the load.

According to our recent research into mobile operator relationships detailed in a forthcoming Quocirca report, "Beyond the Bit Pipe", businesses are looking to build more strategic relationships with operators who are willing to offer more than connectivity. Dealing with the challenges of the upgrade cycle is a very useful start.

Register readers can get a free copy of "Beyond the Bit Pipe" by signing up here.

Copyright © 2005,

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