IBM Turns Up Pervasive Computing Heat

ARMONK, N.Y. (02/04/2000) - Is your car IP-Java-enabled? It may be soon, courtesy of IBM Corp.

The company has initiated a multipronged attack with its hardware, software and services units to build systems and offer programs that let customers tie Palms, smart phones and other appliances to enterprise networks to exchange data and execute business transactions.

IBM even supports the Automotive Multimedia Interface-Collaboration, the body overseeing the Java-based communications protocols that let a car's diagnostic, safety and navigational systems share information over a network.

IBM is looking to tap a huge opportunity in the pervasive computing arena, which will be worth $120 billion by 2003, IBM says.

Stiff competition ahead

However, the company faces tremendous competition in this area. For instance, Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp. are vying for the smart phone end of the business. Microsoft Corp. has its Windows CE operating system for handheld devices. For services, companies such as EDS are offering packages that integrate various types of devices with enterprise networks.

IBM also faces a customer perception issue, analysts say.

In the pervasive computing arena, IBM seems to be interested in being a service provider more than anything else, says Ken Dulaney, analyst with Gartner Group, a consultancy in Stamford, Conn. He claims IBM's enterprise customers don't associate the company with any specific line of mobile or handheld computing products as they would with Nokia and its smart phones and services.

For instance, IBM licensed the Palm from 3Com and sold it as its WorkPad, but the marketing effort languished and most customers don't even know IBM offers it, Dulaney says.

To succeed, IBM should be clearer about its specific products and must continue to develop middleware that will allow all devices - regardless of wire speed or operating system - to execute standardized transactions with corporate nets.

Indeed, one IS manager at a large North American insurance company says he didn't even know IBM was in the field. He wouldn't buy into IBM unless the company provided him with something Nokia and 3Com didn't, he says. "And there has to be set rules and standards so the product can interact with your network without worrying about what brand of equipment you are using," says the manager, who requested anonymity.

Integrated services and products

That is exactly what IBM hopes to do, and in the process that's how the company will differentiate its offerings. IBM provides a variety of integrated product and consulting services its competitors don't. As an example of its service offerings, IBM recently set up an Internet portal for mobile telecommunications company VodaFone AirTouch. The portal delivers content to personal digital assistants (PDA) and mobile phones.

IBM also offers a variety of individual products, such as its handheld ThinkPads. The company's DB2 Everywhere and MQSeries Everywhere software allow these devices to access databases and communicate with network applications.

IBM's Mobile Connect software ensures that the network and handheld device are synchronized. IBM also offers its Transcoding software that will shrink 'Net data so it fits in a PDA or smart phone. To manage mobile users, IBM also sells Tivoli software tools that let IS staff assign and appropriate application resources.

Partnerships may help

The company also has partnerships with companies such as Motorola and Nokia.

For instance, IBM bundles Nokia's Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) server software on its line of Windows NT Netfinity boxes. WAP defines a set of protocols that permit Web data to be downloaded onto mobile phones.

With these offerings, IBM's primary role will be to act as an arms supplier for the entire mobile-handheld industry, says Jon Prial, director of marketing for the company's 300-member Pervasive Computing Division, part of the IBM software group. The unit works closely with the IBM Global Services division, which offers extensive consulting packages, and the IBM Research Division, which is actively developing technologies for wireless and handheld device-based networks.

And working behind the scenes, the company also sits on the standards bodies defining pervasive communications protocols, such as XML, WAP and Bluetooth, the specification defining short-range radio frequencies, Prial says.

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