IBM Says It Can Give Mobile Biz a Boost

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is adding clarity to its mobile strategy today, hoping to cash in on the mobile industry's move to 4G with new software for remote cell-tower monitoring, Android-centric enterprise technology and enhanced analytics.

The company outlined its revived mobile strategy today at the grand opening of its largest development lab in North America -- a campus split between the towns of Littleton and Westford, Massachusetts. IBM has been in the mobile space for more than a decade, but Scott Sobers, global program director of service provider solutions at IBM, says it's ready to step up its involvement as wireless operators search for ways to minimize the strain on their networks and preserve bandwidth.

Sobers admits that the industry hasn't aways understood the breadth of what IBM had to offer in mobility. It focuses on the less glamorous software behind the operating system and competes with some big names like HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP), as the German giant acquires Sybase Inc. That said, IBM claims its software reaches more than 1 billion mobile phones -- and potentially more following today's announcements.

IBM remotes into cell towers
IBM today introduced a new analytics software and services platform designed to detect and manage problems at the more than 143,000 remote cell towers in the US. Sobers says that managing all the components of these towers in real time requires a hefty investment of time and money. By letting technicians work remotely through its Intelligent Site Operations middleware, IBM's software can reduce truck rolls, labor and fuel costs, he says.

Sobers says that carriers have been focused on improving the quality of service in their data centers, but don't realize that nearly 69 percent of the energy is used in the last mile of the network, where a lot of the equipment is. This is the area that IBM is targeting.

"Carriers are focused on managing the active part of the network but neglecting to manage the passive part of it -- cell towers, things connected to the base station," Sobers says. "We want to improve everything that makes up the physical delivery chain."

For example, if an outage were to occur, a tech would receive an alert on his mobile device or desktop about the problem and what needs to be done to fix it. [Ed. note: Of course, waaaay before that, customers would be bitching about it on Twitter.] A telco in Southeast Asia has deployed IBM's solution to manage its cell sites and is seeing initial savings of around 20 to 25 percent from reduction in energy and operating expense improvements, according to Sobers.

IBM brings widgets to the enterprise
At the enterprise user level, IBM is also introducing new software to link voice and Web communications. The software, an updated version of IBM WebSphere CEA Mobile Widgets, includes collaborative browsing for mobile customer service acceleration.

The company cited examples of its enterprise widget work, including a mobile banking platform it has built for ING Direct and a mobile customer service offering for Air Canada.

IBM is also extending its Lotus Notes collaboration software to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android devices, which Sobers says are becoming increasingly common as enterprises let their employees choose their own phone.

To complement its WebSphere software, IBM will leverage an acquisition that was just announced today. IBM acquired Coremetrics, a real-time analytics provider to the enterprise, which has a software-as-a-service platform that will let it track consumer interactions on the web, social media and mobile to help it compete in the web analytics market.

IBM Mass Lab's grand opening
To house its latest mobile offerings, including a 4G initiative, IBM's largest software development lab will open its doors today. The split IBM Mass Lab campus will house 3,400 of IBM's IT software engineers working to manage the influx of data in enterprise mobile computing.

The lab is one of 70 IBM has across the globe and will hone in on the 4G network, Sobers says, particularly for industry verticals like healthcare, retail, and finance. IBM's labs have also come up with new software for self-optimization of the network and a mobile email prototype dubbed Mail Triage that lets users manage emails and tasks across devices.

Massachusetts is familiar territory for IBM, the second-largest technology employer in the state. Since 2003, the IT powerhouse has acquired 14 Massachusetts-based companies to bolster its software focus, including Rational Software, Cognos Inc. (Nasdaq: COGN; Toronto: CSN), Ascential Software Corp., and, most recently, Ounce Labs and Guardium Corp. It has also partnered with more than 100 venture-capital-backed tech companies in the state and has more than 1,600 business partners in New England.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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