The mobile operators and handset manufacturers may be talking up the imminent arrival of mass-market 3G at the industry's annual 3GSM Cannes love-in this week but in the real world corporate IT departments are still cautious about the technology.
Looking at how far up the corporate IT and communications agenda 3G is, we asked our silicon.com CIO Jury whether 3G will affect the way their staff work. Nine said 'no' and just three said 'yes', with many observing that 3G may well yet be overtaken by other technologies.
Ian Auger, head of IT and communications at ITN, said 3G is not on his agenda this year. "Coverage is still a major issue and, with an ever increasing number of wireless hot spots, it is possible that 3G might get overtaken," he said.
Dr Stuart Brough, director of IT services at the University of Strathclyde, said that while mobility and pervasive access to information are important to his institution, 3G "in its current form" is not. Jeremy Acklam, IT director, Virgin Trains, said his company is focusing instead on implementing 802.11 wireless connectivity in the workplace.
3G was described as standing for the operators' '3rd Go' at wireless by Dharmesh Mistry, CTO at edge IPK. He said 3G faces a battle from technologies such as the Blackberry for email and Wi-Fi for internet access.
"The main issue for us with 3G is quality of service (QoS), cost and reach. Wi-Fi is more resilient and [offers] better QoS and is more cost effective; however, reach is limited at present," he said. "Going forward, offline capability and [the] need for quality connectivity will be key and I'm not convinced that 3G will offer the quality connectivity required."
Most others on the panel said 3G was at least a year away from making any impact on their organisation and that reliability needs to be proven first but Pete Smith, director of IT and telecoms at Inmarsat, said it will change the face of remote working.
"3G will allow bandwidth-hungry applications such as full-motion video, video-conferencing and full internet, which means that staff can use the same applications as they have in the office. No longer is there a need to learn a different way of working when remote. Real-time video also means face-to-face conferencing is not just possible, but will soon become the norm, changing the way people meet and work."
Another supporter is British Airways CIO Paul Coby, who said that while internal use of 3G will be an "evolution, not revolution", there is potential in 3G to offer another way for customers to interact with the airline.
"We welcome 3G growth as another means to provide functionality for customers and employees, but we can also provide it over wireless, GSM and 'conventional' internet. What will be crucial to take up is price - although 3G will be more pervasive than wireless, it will only be able to command a sensible premium - otherwise people will focus on wireless connectivity and only use 3G for specific applications and to fill in the gaps when essential."
Today's CIO Jury was:
Jeremy Acklam, IT Director, Virgin Trains
Ian Auger, Head of IT and Communications, ITN
Dr Stuart Brough, Director of IT Services, University of Strathclyde
Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways
Frank Coyle, IT Director, John Menzies Distribution
David Jemitus, Head of IT, Government Planning Portal
Nick Masterson-Jones, IT Programmes Director, BACS
Dharmesh Mistry, CTO, edge IPK
Pete Smith, Director of IT and Telecoms, Inmarsat
Gavin Whatrup, IT Director, Delaney, Lund, Knox, Warren & Partners
Paul Worthington, CTO, Kingfisher
David Yu, CTO, Betfair
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