Give your customers a mobility roadmap – They need it!

In the news this week was an exciting (and long-awaited) item: the IEEE has approved the standard for mobile WiMAX, 802.16e. This standard gives vendors, chipmakers and carriers something to aim at, and gives groups like the WiMAX Forum the ability to start developing interoperability standards, testing procedures and certifications for mobile WiMAX – just as last year’s 802.16d-2004 fixed WiMAX standard has provided some stability in the non-mobile arena.

In the news this week was an exciting (and long-awaited) item: the IEEE has approved the standard for mobile WiMAX, 802.16e.  This standard gives vendors, chipmakers and carriers something to aim at, and gives groups like the WiMAX Forum the ability to start developing interoperability standards, testing procedures and certifications for mobile WiMAX – just as last year’s 802.16d-2004 fixed WiMAX standard has provided some stability in the non-mobile arena.

But having a standard - and even having interoperability and certification - doesn’t solve the problem that carriers face about where to go next. Most major carriers have got their near-term mobility solutions on the market today, in the form of EV-DO and HSDPA.  So it’s an easy path right? EV-DO today, and WiMAX tomorrow?

Well, of course the answer there is, “No” – EV-DO and HSDPA are both moving targets, and there are network evolution decisions in play within these networks (when to move from EV-DO Rel 0 to the faster Rev A, for example, or when to introduce HSUPA on the GSM side of things).  And even if you figure out all of the technical, financial, and marketing angles on these evolutions, you really haven’t figured out exactly where your network will be in two or three years when mobile WiMAX is available.

And WiMAX doesn’t really offer any easy answers either. The new Scalable-OFDM physical layer in 802.16e is different than that used in 802.16d-2004. Carriers investing in 802.16d gear today won’t have an easy evolutionary path to mobility – it’ll most likely be a forklift upgrade. There’s already an effort underway (the 802.16e OFDM Evolutionary Taskgroup) to fix this, but it’s far too soon to see how successful this will be.

Lacking such an evolution path, most carriers will probably wait for 802.16e to start shipping, which is a couple of years away, at best.

All of the hair pulling and sleepless nights that these network evolution decisions cause within a carrier pales in comparison with what they cause many enterprise CIOs who are looking for mobility solutions.  Distill down what these folks want and it’s simple: they have mobile applications (a host of them ranging from simple e-mail and voice connectivity right on up to highly specialized vertical applications) and they need a network provider to enable them. When it comes right down to it, CIOs don’t care about what you use to support their apps, just that you can support them, and support them well without forcing frequent painful changes in equipment, infrastructure and service contracts.

Unfortunately, the lack of a clear roadmap makes these CIOs and IT executives have to think about underlying technologies, and about carrier roadmaps and network evolutions. And if they start thinking about these things too much - particularly in the face of a poorly articulated roadmap by the carrier - there can be a chilling effect on their buying habits.

IT executives take their time making these decisions. They do their internal ROI calculations and their technology assessments and then they make a decision which could impact their business over a course of years. Give them a product that they feel will be outdated or replaced in six months, and they will doubtless be hesitant to adopt it throughout their enterprise. We’ve seen multiple enterprise analysts recommend against wireless WAN services in general, and embedded implementations of them specifically, due to this uncertainty.

Carriers need to articulate strongly a roadmap that puts enterprises in the comfort zone. Combat the FUD of mobile WiMAX with a story that puts applications first, and which reassures them that their applications will be supported by your network now and in the future - with a minimum of evolutionary pain for them as you migrate your network. If you don’t know your own plan, then put in place some sort of futureproofing marketing overlay that makes users feel like they won’t have to throw away everything they invest in. If they don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling about how your network roadmap affects their applications, don’t be surprised if they resist your mobility story; they’ll simply use your mobile data services sparingly, and only where they really need to, rather than where they’d like to.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10