Rewiring the world for handhelds: Page 2

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CIO Bob Luminati, Landstar System Inc.
To make applications work on today's screens, developers have to find a way to strip away all graphics and make sure that any graphics containing actual content are translated properly and are readable to users. In addition, developers must ensure that any Java scripts or enhancements to pages are translatable and usable.

"Because of the way the wireless device has to operate today, I can't present a large database table and let somebody pick and choose," Landstar's Luminati says. "It becomes a series of process of elimination questions. After about eight questions, you can imagine how many options you have described. So we have to embed a huge number of decisions into the application."

To address the problem, Luminati contracted with PhoneOnLine, which spent time with the company's internal IT staff and its truckers to understand how people would be interacting with the data. By doing the legwork up front, Luminati says, it was easier for PhoneOnLine to ensure that the proper business logic was presented effectively.

Facing today's limitations

Gary Norcross, managing director for the community bank market segment at Alltel Information Services Inc.
Another major limitation is bandwidth. Developers must make sure the information they are sending to the unit is stripped in size to accommodate the device's 9.6kbps bandwidth, which isn't always that simple to achieve.

Bandwidth is one of the issues holding Alltel back from delivering even more functionality to its customer banks. Until bandwidth limitations are resolved, WAP phones will never be the primary delivery channel for the banking industry, Norcross says.

But once those bandwidth issues are resolved, "you could send entire bank statements over the device," he says. "Once we no longer have bandwidth limitations, the bank could automatically notify you that you are overdrawn and allow you to immediately transfer funds from another account to avoid the overdraft charge."

Along with bandwidth issues are concerns about how the data is actually being transferred from wireless device to WAP server to Web server. For the process to work smoothly, local telecommunications companies must cooperate--a situation still being resolved by some telcos in the United States.

At a Glance

Alltel Information Services Inc.

The company: Little Rock, Ark.-based Alltel Information Services Inc., a subsidiary of Alltel Corp., develops information systems processing software for the banking industry. The company has 24,000 employees.

The challenge: to develop software for banks that would allow those banks to offer wireless banking to their own customers.

The technology deployed: Using Seagull's Wireless-to-Host Solution, bank customers can access the system on a Palm VII or compatible wireless PDA or on WAP-enabled mobile phones. The product resides on an IBM AS/400 computer at each bank's headquarters.

The benefits accrued: increased sales and customer satisfaction.
Telecommunications carriers are sure to get in the act as WAP services become more widespread in this country. For the highest service level to be achieved, telecommunications carriers will have to be able to direct the WAP services, explains Raul Romo, portfolio marketing manager for the Baystack Wireless technology at Nortel Networks in Santa Clara, Calif. "When a user wants to look up a stock quote on a wireless phone, the telco service at the head end will have to know where to send that request," he says.

Today, cellular carriers--not local telecommunications companies--across all regions of the U.S. have some form of digital cellular service. As it stands now, as long as a user has digital cellular service and an Internet-enabled device that has been activated by the cellular carrier, users shouldn't have too much trouble using the devices. In essence, the cellular provider is simply being used as a pipeline--the method Landstar System is using.

Other companies are choosing to turn to a wireless application service provider (ASP), which is a solutions provider that translates an organization's wired Web information or back-end database information into a form that can be read on a WAP-enabled device. Some of the wireless ASPs crowding the marketplace today include Aether Systems Inc., AvantGo Inc., and Everypath Inc.

Finding the right apps

Perhaps more than anything else, identifying applications that can run in a wireless Web environment is a major challenge. Because the industry is fairly new and the requirements are stringent, few packaged applications are available today, with the exception of e-mail packages. Although vendors are beginning to develop applications for specific vertical markets, such as the medical, biotechnology, transportation, and manufacturing arenas, other industries must either wait for vendors to write applications or develop their own.

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