Smartphones Provide New Capabilities for Mobile Professionals
‘Anywhere Solutions’ for Businesses

By P. Paul Lin and Kevin F. Brown

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MAY 2007 - To be successful, professionals should leverage technology to help productivity. According to In-Stat, a technology research firm, 2006 was a good year for cellphone manufacturers, with about 1 billion phones sold worldwide, including almost 80 million smartphones (Brad Smith, “Smartphones Escalate OS Wars,” Wireless Week, January 1, 2007, http://www.wirelessweek.com/article.aspx?id=78468&terms=Smartphones Escalate OS Wars). A smartphone is a device that can take care of one’s communication, handheld computing, and multimedia needs. Unlike traditional cellphones, a smartphone offers a personal information manager (PIM), functionality (e.g., contacts, calendars, and tasks) and allows professionals to install and run various computer applications that can edit documents, search the Internet, and retrieve information from enterprise servers. PDA vendors (e.g., BlackBerry and Palm) have also added phone functionality to their products so that users can discard their traditional cellphones and rely solely on PDAs for their communication needs.

Most professionals cannot work productively without data resources. The rapid advances of wireless communication, including smartphones and third-generation (3G) wireless broadband services, can offer professionals access to the information they need and the convenience of staying connected anytime and anywhere. With fast and secure wireless communication, professionals can retrieve documents from their offices, edit and send documents to their clients and staff, or prepare PowerPoint slides when traveling. A small but powerful smartphone can automatically synchronize (using Microsoft ActiveSync) its data with a laptop or desktop and allow professionals to “carry” their office in their pocket. With smartphone prices dropping and data transmission rates significantly improved, this may be the year that mobile broadband access will finally expand to allow office mobility for virtually all businesses. This article will help professionals make informed decisions for their “anywhere/anytime solution,” explain several adoption issues, and offer suggestions to enhance mobile security.

The Anywhere Solution

The anywhere solution (Exhibit 1) provides professionals with secure wireless access to their enterprise servers and business applications. Specifically, professionals can use their smartphones to retrieve the information they need, read and send e-mails, or talk to clients while away from the office. Consequently, a smartphone with a mobile broadband connection creates the “office-to-go” option. As service plans have become increasingly complicated, however, the phone functions have become more complex.

Mobile Standards

Similar to the design variation found in personal computers, cellphones are different in terms of mobile standards or technologies and transmission frequencies. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) is the most popular standard for cellphones around the world. GSM services are used by over 2 billion people across more than 200 countries (73% of the worldwide mobile market share in 2006), but GSM takes second place in the U.S. market. GSM operates in the 900-MHz and 1800-MHz bands in Europe and Asia, while service providers in the U.S., including Cingular (AT&T) and T-Mobile, use the 850-MHz or 1900-MHz spectrum. Consequently, even with a new local subscriber identification module (SIM) card in a foreign country, a GSM cellphone from the U.S. may not work in Europe or Asia. Frequent international business travelers may want to buy a dual-band, tri-band, or quad-band “world phone.” Mobile standards and frequency information for foreign countries worldwide can be found at www.thetravelinsider.info/roadwarriorcontent/quadbandphones.htm.

North America is the only region in the world where the Code Division Multiplex Access (CDMA; 800 or 1900 MHz) mobile technology, adopted by Verizon and Sprint, is the market leader. While accounting for only 14% of the worldwide mobile market share in 2006, CDMA accounted for 50% of the North American market. GSM follows with about 38% (“North America Q3 2006 Technology Roundup,” www.cellular-news.com/story/20904.php). Early on in the market-share competition, GSM held an advantage over CDMA in roaming readiness and fraud prevention. Today, however, CDMA compares favorably to GSM for functionalities, including multimedia messages, video, digital camera, and high-speed Internet access (Alessandra Carneiro, “Which Technology Is Better: GSM or CDMA?” June 18, 2005, www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/151). Nevertheless, the question of superiority may be moot for users in areas with only one of the technologies.

The competition between CDMA and GSM has intensified as mobile data service providers have launched their 3G mobile networks in selected U.S. metropolitan areas. CDMA service providers adopted the EV-DO (Evolution Data Only) technology, which transmits data at speeds of 300 to 500 kbps and can theoretically reach transmission rates of 2.4 Mbps (similar to a landline cable modem). Meanwhile, Cingular, a GSM service provider, initially used the Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution technology (EDGE; with 384 kbps transfer rates) before migrating to the wideband CDMA technology (WCDMA; transfer rates up to 2 Mbps). In October 2006, T-Mobile announced that it would also move to a 3G network, using the Universal Mobile Telephone Service technology (UMTS; 400 to 700 bps).

While mobile service providers implement their expensive 3G mobile networks in the United States, the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access technology (WiMax) is on the horizon as the fourth generation (4G) of wireless technology. WiMax has the ability to deliver true mobile broadband services on a grand scale. In practice, WiMax can deliver data at 10 Mbps (about five times faster than the typical cable modem) at distances up to six miles in a “line of sight” environment and over 1.25 miles in the typical urban environment (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WiMax). WiMax is expected to deliver high-throughput, low-cost broadband wireless services by 2012. For example, Sprint announced in August 2006 that it would invest up to $3 billion over the next two years to build a 4G wireless network based on the WiMax standard. Many mobile service providers have yet to recover their multibillion-dollar investments in the 3G networks, however, and any 4G build-out will place an even greater strain on their financial resources.

Hardware and Operating Systems

To run a typical computer application and save documents or data, one must have several hardware components, including a processor, memory, a keyboard, a mouse (or trackball), and a display screen. Due to space constraints, however, the hardware components of a smartphone are typically smaller and less powerful than a laptop computer (Exhibit 2).

According to In-Stat, popular operating systems installed in smartphones include the Symbian OS (62.3% of the 80 million units sold worldwide in 2006), Linux (19.6%), Microsoft Windows Mobile (8.4%), RIM BlackBerry OS (6.8%), and Palm OS (2.6%). Software vendors also offer special versions of their products (e.g., Microsoft’s Office Mobile) so that the programs can work in the “lean” computing platform of a smartphone. Many Internet companies (e.g., Google) provide separate mobile-friendly websites for visitors using smartphones or PDAs (e.g., www.google.com/pda/).

Symbian OS is the product of Symbian Ltd., a software company owned by a group of phone manufacturers that includes Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, and Samsung. By outsourcing the operating system design to Symbian, these manufacturers can focus on hardware design and production. Furthermore, the Symbian OS is not designed for any specific phone’s display size or data input method; therefore, manufacturers have the flexibility to develop innovative designs and deliver them to the market quickly.

Windows Mobile, another operating system alternative, offers business professionals a transfer of their previous Windows experience. In addition, Windows Mobile is designed to work seamlessly with existing Windows-based PC and server applications and data. Professionals can use smartphones to check or compose e-mail with Outlook Mobile, create sales charts with Excel Mobile, check inventory quantities from their enterprise server, place orders with vendors, communicate with their staff, get driving directions with Internet Explorer Mobile, prepare slides with PowerPoint Mobile, and perform other duties by using a variety of business applications. The shipment of Windows Mobile had an astonishing growth rate of 239% in the third quarter of 2006 over the same period in 2005 (www.symbian.com/about/fastfacts/fastfacts.html).

Palm OS was developed by PalmSource, a subsidiary of Access, a Japanese developer of cellphone browser technology. PalmSource focuses on its belief in the most important uses of a mobile device for business professionals: working with corporate data and using e-mail. Corporate data are typically hosted by a variety of enterprise solutions from companies such as Oracle, SAP, Sun, Lotus, RSA, and Siebel. Because PalmSource serves only the mobile market, it has created close working relationships with leaders in corporate computing, including ERP vendors. As a result, Palm OS integrates well with a wide variety of enterprise solutions. Palm OS remains the number-one platform among smartphone owners in the U.S., according to IDC’s 2006 survey (“With Smart Phones, It’s All About the OS,” November 29, 2006, asia.cnet.com/reviews/mobilephones/0,39050603,61970891,00.htm).


Selecting a Service Provider and a Smartphone

Regarding 3G mobile broadband, it’s all about the service provider because the mode (CDMA or GSM) and transmission speeds depend on what a carrier offers. A user’s selection might be limited, however, because one’s preferred 3G network may not extend to all of one’s business locations. Even worse, the expensive installation of 3G networks has limited mobile broadband services to certain areas. Before making a selection, buyers should compare online coverage maps of service providers with their residence, work, and travel locales. If possible, speak to current subscribers in these areas because the service-providers’ maps might be inaccurate, especially for locations at the edge of a coverage area.

Consumer Reports conducted a comprehensive survey in September 2006, collecting 42,921 responses from its readers in 20 metro areas (“Best Cell Services,” Consumer Reports, January 2007). About a quarter of the participants indicated that they switched service providers during the past three years largely because of poor service. Furthermore, about 28% of the switches occurred while subscribers were still under contract, despite the early- termination fees that may have been imposed. The detailed information provided in this survey could be helpful, even if one’s business needs are outside those 20 metro areas, because of the potential insight into overall consistency and service.

Because the functionalities of smartphones have become more complex, selecting a device is not unlike buying a car. Just as a test drive is essential when buying a car, the handling of a prospective smartphone is critical. If possible, one should stop in a retail store and evaluate the phone’s functionalities and ease of use. If one is comfortable with a particular model, Consumer Reports suggests purchasing the product online. Survey responses from 18,000 subscribers (covering 34 cellphones) revealed that 61% of participants were “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the prices they paid online compared to 46% for those who made in-store purchases (“Best Cell-Phone Deals,” Consumer Reports, January 2007). The reviews can shed some light on product performance and assist in purchase decisions.

Security Concerns for Mobile Offices

Security and convenience are always trade-offs when using a mobile device. Mobile networks offer flexibility, but privacy is a concern. Hackers do not need to have physical access to the network, and they do not have to be close to an individual’s phone (if they employ booster antennas) to compromise security. Hackers can also take their time cracking passwords or PINs to read one’s network data without leaving a trace. Furthermore, smartphones pose even higher threats because the key personnel who tend to have access to more-sensitive business information are also more likely to use their mobile devices to view, edit, and store such information.

Security threats for laptops apply not only to smartphones, but often make mobile devices even more susceptible because the lean computing platforms of smartphones do not have adequate resources to create a good defense. The threats for mobile devices include criminals eavesdropping, stealing data, hacking into servers, planting malware (e.g., viruses and spyware), and cloning the devices. Theft of the devices, which can easily be misplaced, is also a looming danger.

Although most businesses mandate Wi-Fi security on laptops, some may overlook the same security threats to their smartphones. Smartphones are equipped with Bluetooth, a wireless technology that allows users to transfer files between different devices, such as sending data from cellphones to desktop computers or transferring addresses stored on laptops to smartphones. Many people do not realize that Bluetooth and Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS) are typically enabled on their smartphones. An active wireless device cradled to a desktop using Bluetooth can create a back door into a company’s server and network. Mobile devices have become tempting and relatively easy targets for hackers.

Several cases of mobile malware and wireless attacks have emerged in recent years. For example, the Doomboot trojan corrupted Symbian-powered devices and the Commwarrior worm spread malware from one device to another by Bluetooth and MMS (Lisa Phifer, “Mobile Security: Where Risk Meets Opportunity, Part 2,” July 24, 2006, itmanagement.earthweb.com/secu/article.php/3621986). Malware can also infect smartphones when users download programs, photos, video clips, or even ringtones. Moreover, if Bluetooth is enabled on a smartphone and is within 30 feet of another Bluetooth-enabled and infected device, that phone might get infected. Similar to the file-sharing option on a computer, the Bluetooth feature of a smartphone should be turned off or set to the “non-discoverable” mode when it’s not in use. Additionally, if a phone is equipped with a “beam” communication device (infrared receiver), one should allow it to receive incoming beams only when receiving data from a source that’s trustworthy (“Help Avoid Computer Viruses that Spread over Mobile Devices,” September 20, 2006, www.microsoft.com/athome/security/viruses/mobilevirus.mspx).

In March 2006, hackers unleashed spyware that could copy “short message server” (SMS) messages and send the messages to a server accessed by the hackers. In September 2006, another spyware program was detected that could retrieve SMS messages, contact numbers, and call logs (Andrew R. Hickey, “Mobile Spyware —It’s Here,” December 20, 2006, search mobilecomputing.techtarget.com/).

Cloning, the copying of another phone’s identity, is an additional security threat. Older analog cellphones could be cloned remotely with some radio reception equipment, but criminals need more resources for over-the-air cloning of digital GSM phones. For example, such a scheme requires over-the-air access to the targeted cellphones for a relatively long period of time, along with some sophisticated technical expertise (“GSM Cloning,” www.isaac.cs.berkeley.edu/isaac/gsm.html).

Cloning a CDMA cellphone is less difficult and is accomplished by duplicating a phone’s electronic serial number (ESN) and mobile identification number (MIN). With this information, the perpetrator can make many copies of one phone number so that all the services used will be charged to that one account.
Readers would likely be disturbed to learn that there are several blog postings by those desperate enough to obtain copies of the software capable of changing ESNs and MINs. As a result of this nefarious demand, this type of crime will continue to escalate. Mobile service subscribers should check their bills regularly to detect any unauthorized use, especially international calls. See the Sidebar for suggestions to enhance the security of smartphones.

Caveats

Whether an “anywhere solution” is the right choice for a business depends on several factors. Are staff (e.g., executives, sales personnel, auditors, or customer support teams) constantly on the road? What kind of data do staff need in the field? What types of mobile applications do they need? What is the budget? Mobility and wireless offer significant benefits to businesses in terms of productivity and growth, and can have a short payback period (“Wireless Notebooks to See Rapid Growth, Enhance Small Business Productivity, States ITSPA,” May 19, 2004, www.itspa.net/pressroom/press_detail.asp?id=81). There is still a cost associated with this technology, however, which may significantly affect the budgets of small and medium-size businesses. Such companies should assess where the greatest payback will be when introducing mobility into their business processes.

While businesses can capitalize on smartphones to create an anywhere solution to enhance staff productivity, mobile devices are not a panacea. They can also distract employees with multimedia entertainment (e.g., music, video clips). Abuses of company-issued cellphones by employees not only decrease productivity by adding distractions, but might also increase phone bills. Companies should have explicit policies regarding smartphones to deter abuse.

The demands for mobile devices and wireless broadband will continue to grow. IDC predicts that 90% of enterprise mailboxes will be accessed with mobile devices by the end of 2007 (Lisa Phifer, “Mobile Security: Where Risk Meets Opportunity: Part 1,” July 17, 2006, itmanagement.earthweb.com/secu/article.php/3620426). Furthermore, new models of smartphones featuring more-powerful capabilities and innovative designs are constantly appearing. In this fast-changing environment, choosing the right technology for one’s anywhere solution is an important decision for any professional.


P. Paul Lin, PhD, is an associate professor of accountancy, and Kevin F. Brown, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor of accountancy, both at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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