The Mobile Data Initiative - more digital innovation
Digital telephony sounds like a direct cousin of the digital
world of computing. What could be easier than using a digital
telephone to send a computer's digital data? Yet the vast majority
of data transfers today take place over analogue lines. This
is because the digitalisation of telephony is still in early stages
in many countries. ISDN is far from widespread. The plain old
telephone system (POTS) is still the ubiquitous form of transmission.
Only in one area is digital technology taking the lead: GSM mobile
telephony in Europe. The Mobile Data Initiative (MDI) was formed
by a cross-industry group of companies to promote this advantage.
In terms of technology, the GSM telephone system is a world leader.
Designed specifically for Europe, it is now in use in over 50
countries world-wide. Within Europe it provides a multi-country,
compatible system with a fast, reliable service over large areas
of northern, western and central Europe. It makes roaming totally
transparent with calls handed from one national system to another.
A wide range of telephones for the GSM system is now available
and almost all companies also produce digital conversion cards
in PC Card format for notebook PCs.
GSM figures back this up. In Europe, currently only one in 50
GSM phone users also has a GSM data card. This means that data
transfers over the GSM network only make up 0.5% of traffic compared
to 46.3% of business traffic over European land lines. Such statistics
beg the question "Why?". What stops Europe's businessmen
from exploiting mobile connectivity advantages?
MDI - making data itinerant
MDI was launched in Berlin on 1st October 1996. It
is working in public and within the core computing and telecommunications
industries to make mobile GSM data as easy and attractive to business
as possible. To measure its success, MDI set two objectives:
by 2000, 70% of mobile PC users should also have a GSM data card,
and in terms of turnover on the European GSM network, 30% of calls
should be carrying data.
To reach these goals, the MDI group has set up a range of activities,
including public information programs, user demonstrations, easier
retailer purchasing, compatibility testing and technical standardisation
procedures. In addition, each of the member companies is looking
at new products and new services to further the goals of the initiative.
MDI - more dynamic information
But none of these calculations takes into account the dynamics
of having staff fully informed, updated and included. If e-mail
has become your major company method of distributing data and
keeping in personal contact, is it right to keep sales staff (the
people who, after all, create the business) off the system? At
your desk you read mails when they come, or when you want. Should
sales staff be updated only once a day at home?
Sales staff who quickly log in via GSM from the car before entering
a client's building are better informed and more confident about
the sales discussions. They know if there's been a last minute
change in price, availability or if a competing company has also
just decided for the same product.
The costs to business of badly-informed staff are difficult to
compute. Just as many companies were not sure why they needed
notebooks, and could only see the benefits once these had been
implemented, so the case for GSM connectivity is partly based
on experience. Alternatively if you use GSM phones but not notebooks,
look at what phone connectivity has brought you. You can interrupt
somebody's work to ask for information, but you can't analyse
what they tell you, or work it into your (pre-printed) presentation.
GSM data connectivity is one more step in the direction of complete
information at your fingertips, anywhere. It exploits the business
cost savings of dynamic information flows.
MDI - making distance invisible
To help make both GSM connectivity as well as distance invisible,
the member companies have instituted "plug fests" where
all the hardware is brought together and tested for full compatibility.
Testing procedures are open to all member companies and the results
are shared within the group. The level of trust this shows between
member companies is indicative of the seriousness with which they
take the MDI programme.
Together with Microsoft, member companies are aiming to implement
GSM connectivity as part of the future unimodem feature set for
perfect plug and play functionality under Windows operating systems.
GSM connectivity should be transparent within applications. The
MDI group is also looking into GSM software solutions and collecting
all information onto one central GSM website where customers and
member companies alike can inform themselves of developments.
If you are interested in what GSM data connectivity can offer
your company visit www.gsdmdata.com and see for yourself
what is on offer.
MDI - membership dramatically increasing
At its launch MDI was made up of 12 core members: for notebook PCs, Toshiba, Compaq, IBM; for GSM equipment, Ericsson and Nokia; for network operators, Cellnet, DeTe-Mobil, Mannesmann, Telia and Vodafone; and for operating systems, Microsoft and Intel. In the meantime membership has more than doubled. With 27 members (March 1997), the group can look back on its first six months with a measure of pleasure. MDI is making waves in the business world, as well as making digital innovations.