After the bitter experience of wireless application protocol (WAP), wireless network operators are praying that higher speed, always-on data technology general packet radio services (GPRS) will act as a panacea while they try to get their third-generation (3G) infrastructure in place.
Swedish vendor Alice Systems has developed connectivity tools that are designed to improve the performance of GPRS – and, eventually, 3G – networks. No fewer than 50 operators are now either testing or using the tools.
Jörgen Lantto, president of Alice Systems, is encouraged by the enthusiasm towards his company’s products. He says the tools will improve the end-user experience of accessing web content on the move. “The success of mobile Internet depends on user-friendliness,” he says. “Mobile Internet will only really take off when it is so easy to use that everyone can use it hassle-free.”
Alice Connect and Alice Login, the company’s two main products, link handheld computers and laptops to the Internet and corporate local area networks over GPRS. Alice Login also acts as an “all-in-one” client for virtual private networks. That means customers will not have to spend lots of time configuring their devices to use the services.
Alice Systems, a spin-off from Northstream, the Swedish wireless-sector consultancy, has raised €5.8 million from two rounds of funding, in June 2001 and March 2002. It has a partner agreement with the Compaq wireless centre, the computer maker’s research and development division for mobile devices and technologies, and vendor agreements with Ericsson, Mitsubishi, Siemens and Motorola. Some of Europe’s biggest mobile operators, including Vodafone, T-Mobile and MMO2 (formerly BT Cellnet), are using Alice Systems’ software in their GPRS services.
There is a danger, however, that the company’s target market will be short-lived. From 2003, 3G devices will slowly begin to supersede GPRS devices. To offset that risk, the company is working on a 3G client, which it has successfully tested on the only commercial 3G network in the world, NTT DoCoMo’s network in Japan. “Our products are future-proof and extend well beyond GPRS,” insists Lantto.
A further risk is that manufacturers will develop their own 3G connectivity technology. In that scenario, Alice Systems may be compelled to focus on its Alice Login software and similar packages for corporate customers, who will still need secure remote access to their networks. In any case, this is a potentially far more lucrative market, given the relative simplicity of the features provided by Alice Connect.