With all the media coverage and vendor hype it is easy to believe we are in the middle of a wireless revolution. But don't get carried away: while there is an opportunity to deliver value to customers through wireless solutions, resellers must present solid business cases and help customers around technical complexities.
There are two goals that businesses might have when they invest in wireless technology. First, wireless helps free offices of the inconvenience and hazards of wired devices.
Wireless access points enable 'hot-desking' to make economic use of space, allow devices such as printers, servers and scanners to be easily moved around when offices are reconfigured and reduce the potential hazard of workers tripping over cables. If well implemented, the wireless office should be transparent to users.
The second goal of wireless investment is to empower workers who spend much of their time outside the office. Here it is much harder to make the use of wireless technology invisible, which can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.
Because of the complexities many businesses have failed to move beyond pilot projects for mobile workers. Resellers and vendors suffer if these projects do not succeed. Overcoming these issues was the subject of a recent report by Quocirca.
The complexities start by gaining wireless access. While it is possible from almost any populated area in Europe, supply is not homogeneous. There are three different services: Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS, each with multiple suppliers.
Wireless hotspots (using Wi-Fi) have proliferated, and wireless-enabled chips mean most new notebook PCs and an increasing number of PDAs have the potential to access them.
But there are a range of Wi-Fi suppliers, all requiring separate subscriptions. 3G networks are at last coming online. But again there are a range of suppliers with varied network coverage. GPRS access is much more widely available, but access is slower, limiting the applications that can be used.
On top of this the number of devices and operating systems (OSs) has proliferated. Most business executives still have a notebook PC running Windows, but they are increasingly reluctant to cart it around everywhere.
They might be more willing to carry a pocket device, but which one? IT departments do not want to manage lots of different devices. Add to this security concerns and it is not surprising that IT managers often put new wireless projects on the back burner.
If wireless is to be exploited properly it should be extended to the mobile workers who previously it has been too expensive to equip.
If a business is going to give several hundred field service engineers a wireless device, it wants to be sure the chosen hardware and OS will be available in the long term and that the vendors of popular applications will port their software to it.
But all is not gloom. Network service providers are working on aggregated packages that will allow users to migrate between Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS depending on availability and regardless of supplier.
Most hardware manufacturers have standardised on one of three OSs: Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS, Microsoft Windows Mobile and the Symbian OS. This makes it easier for IT departments to standardise their software and select the most cost-effective hardware.
Other concerns are being addressed as well; security in particular. Two coalitions have emerged that aim to ensure that devices can attach safely to networks. These include the Cisco-led Network Admission Control and Network Access Protection backed by Microsoft and others.
At the executive level the case for mobility is easy to make. Senior managers have smart new devices to access email where and when it is convenient to them, and these are likely to get the sign-off from, well, senior management.
But when it comes to enabling large numbers of blue-collar workers to log details of faults and their success at fixing them, for reps to report on sales visits, or for delivery staff to update inventory levels, a good business case has to be made.
With the options available from service providers and suppliers the task of building a business case is getting easier.
Quocirca's full report, entitled Enterprise Wireless Update - Scaling It Up, can be downloaded from the Quocirca web site.
Bob Tarzey is service director at Quocirca.
Quocirca (01753) 855 794
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