Streaming to Handheld Devices
To stream to a handheld device, deploy Windows Media technology on your network. After I had finished writing this book, RealNetworks released RealOne for PocketPC. The player can now operate on PocketPC 2002 devices and connects to the RealSystem Mobile Server to stream real media files in real time. From my first brief look at this new product, it seems that RealNetworks has done a great job of putting RealSystems's reliable performance into its mobile counterpart, but because the product is new I have not been able to test it.
So, why Windows Media and not the other options? There are three reasons: the technology is free; it is widely compatible with most hardware and software solutions; and, most important, it was tested and seems to be easily deployed by many IT departments. Every handheld device that operates with Windows CE version 2.0 and higher comes with or will accept an installation of Windows Media Player (see Figure 111). With the software installed, the device can play back Widows Media streaming format. I recommend that you upgrade your operating system and media player to the latest version available on the market. This will guarantee better performance. Next, determine how your device will receive streaming media. As already explained, the way a handheld PC requests and receives a streaming file depends on the way it connects to the network (or to the Internet). Microsoft PocketPC 2002, for example, can access streaming content with IE for PocketPC, and it supports the 802.11 and TCP/IP protocols. To connect to the Internet, use the cable or cradle supplied with your handheld device or purchase a standard dial-up or wireless modem. The newly released wireless modems (using the 802.11b protocols) connect to WLANs. After you have configured your handheld device, download media on-demand or stream live content. Log on to this book's companion Web site, http://www.streaminghandbook.com, to find more about sites that stream content to handheld devices.
Figure 11-1 Windows Media Player for PocketPC
Wireless Ethernet cards using the 802.11b high-rate protocol are very popular. These PCMCIA cards can plug to laptops, handheld PCs, and PDAs. When networks support wireless connectivity, users move freely around their offices and their connection is on all the time. Before deploying a WLAN infrastructure consider the following issues:
Hardware and software compatibilityYour new wireless equipment must be compatible with your old wired network.
SecuritySome wireless solutions on the market have holes in their security settings. If you do not perform a proper search before purchasing, you may end up with hardware that endangers your entire network.
BudgetThe cost of wireless solutions is dropping. Deploy your plan in stages, providing wireless access to small groups first. Evaluate the current implementation before increasing distribution to other groups.
To facilitate the distribution of streaming media to handheld devices on your corporate WLAN, use an existing Windows Media server. Place the proper streaming files on the server, and link to the file with an ASX redirector. Chapter 10 contains sample ASX files that show how to point reference files to live or on-demand webcasts originating from a Windows Media server. Your intranet Web page will point to the ASX redirector. When mobile users access your intranet Web site, they will initiate a call to the ASX, which will then stream the proper file to their device (across your hybrid wired-wireless network). Remember that all the firewall rules mentioned in Chapter 3 apply to streaming media with mobile devices. Handheld PCs connect to the media server over your WLAN. That WLAN is part of your LAN and, therefore, is bound by the same network rules. From the IT point of view, handheld PCs are no different than desktop PCs.
When deploying a partial or complete wireless network installation, discuss with the owners of your enterprise's intranet Web site(s) the appropriate way to provide future mobile users access to the information on the network. Marketing streaming content on mobile corporate networks is similar to marketing traditional streaming content. (Marketing streaming content on your corporate network is discussed further in Chapter 12.) When promoting streaming content to handheld PCs, keep in mind the limitations of these devices. Unlike the PC, content streamed to mobile devices will be seen on a small screen, the connection can be expected to be interrupted more often, and any interactive functionality should be reconsidered because the display is so small and it is hard to embed a media player with additional interactive elements. I recommend that you use handheld devices to play back complete streaming files (video or audio only), without additional text and images. These streams can be sent out to users via Unicast or Multicast webcasts.
The reach of an organization's computing infrastructure can grow significantly with the use of handheld PCs. By placing the right information and services in the hands of those making critical business decisions and serving customers, your business will grow in a rapid and cost-effective way.