Uh-oh! The carriers want to manage your smartphones

A perpetual fear of being merely 'dumb' pipes has telcos looking for ways to offer services. But can they really deliver?

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AT&T announced this week it was reselling Apperian's mobile application management (MAM) service, which lets enterprises put up corporate app catalogs to steer employees to approved and recommended commercial software, as well as provision and manage the access to and contents of internal apps. It previously announced it would resell Enterproid's Divide technology for Android, which essentially divides Android devices so that business apps and data are kept on a managed, secured partition, safe from whatever occurs on the user's segment. The Enterproid product, called Toggle by AT&T, is still in beta but expected to ship this winter for Android; an iOS version is planned.

You can see the appeal to enterprises: a single, known vendor (AT&T) to work with. The truth is that the technology comes from multiple providers, with each managed as separate services, so the effective benefit of that single vendor is reduced. Still, most CIOs are looking to keep the number of technology suppliers to a manageable set, and having AT&T as their primary MAM relationship will have appeal.

The idea is not the problem, but the execution is. Have you ever called a carrier for support on your device? Or brought one in to a retail store? If so, you know the experience is almost always poor. Would any business seriously go in that direction?

As for the antimalware possibility, that's less scary, but it requires carriers to become a lot more skilled than they are and to stop using services as a way to rope customers into just their networks. That's less of an issue for the mobile application management tools, as they're largely managed by IT. They have to be, considering they deal with your policies, your apps, and your users -- no outside provider can do more than supply the tools in this case.

I've heard a lot of promises from the carriers over the years in how they would add significant value through such services, but they never have succeeded. I've also heard a lot of consultants pitching these ideas in hopes of getting carriers to hire them for the project or at least a feasibility study. The carriers often bite, yet nothing has really changed.

Maybe AT&T's MAM moves -- if not its HTML5 APIs -- signal that the change is finally starting to happen. I'd be very cautious this early, but I'd at least entertain the notion long enough to see if the reality meets the promise.

This article, "Uh-oh! The carriers want to manage your smartphones," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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