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Strategies for a winning wireless deployment

Despite the gloom that has hung over the tech sector this past year, Tim Scannell said wireless stands out as a bright spot. With new high-speed infrastructure rolling out, companies thinking more intelligently about wireless systems and an expected boost in IT spending next year, wireless is about to make a real impact on businesses. Here, Scannell details some of the strategies that can help businesses get the most from their wireless deployments.

Scannell, a longtime technology journalist, is the founder and chief analyst of Quincy, Mass.-based Shoreline Research. He will discuss the ups and downs of wireless at this year's Networking Decisions conference in Chicago, Oct. 15-18.

In this era of tight budgets is wireless a good use of scarce resources?
Wireless for wireless' sake is not a good investment. You have to go in there and understand the problems and challenges related to that market. Vendors need to be able to go into a company and talk about how the technology will help companies solve problems. They focus too much on selling technology. We are developing too much technology too fast. There are not enough applications for the technology that is already out there. Who benefits the most from a wireless deployment?
Right now everyone could benefit from mobile. People in companies don't need to be tethered to their desks. Why should you have to take the time to run back to your desk to get a report to share with your co-workers? There are small problems like connecting computers to printers economically. You could use Bluetooth or 802.11b [wireless standard] for those connections. Who is deploying wireless systems and why?
If you look at enterprises right now there is modest adoption of wireless. Most Fortune 2,000 companies have a small percentage of real wireless deployments happening. A lot of companies have done small departmental deployments.

Everyone is under a limited budget now. But they will begin to spend again some time. It's not a matter of if they will go wireless, but when. Budgets are likely to free up in the first quarter next year. When they do, companies will expand on their small deployments.

Sales force and field force workers are getting real value from mobile systems. Health care, education, hospitality and insurance are all also beginning to invest in wireless. What is inhibiting the adoption of wireless?
The economy is a tremendous factor. Right now there is too much technology and too few applications. Companies have overestimated the willingness and patience of end users. If you give a wireless device to your mobile employees, they may try it once or twice and if it doesn't work they'll toss it aside. Companies really underestimate the training required to use mobile systems.

And there are few true wireless applications designed from the ground up to be mobile. Most mobile applications are just a window into larger application. Mobile users don't get full access to information and they can't blast back a full degree of content. What needs to change for businesses to adopt wireless more aggressively?
There will be a natural transmigration to mobile. It will happen. Most companies do have an overall perception that wireless is useful. An increasing number of companies continue to adopt 802.11b. There is wireless access at bookstores and coffee shops. It is spreading.

In order for wireless to really fly in the enterprise, companies need to enable the movement of mission critical information over mobile systems. You have to make sure people can access data and be able to react to it. What are the driving forces behind business use of mobile technology?
The key driving force today is return on investment. Companies want immediate payback. They want a system to pay for itself in three months. Some companies are forcing vendors to guarantee a return on investment in a certain period of time and if the systems don't hit the mark then companies are opting out of contracts. How are devices likely to change in the future?
I think we are likely to see more tablet PCs. If you are a field force person that deals with forms as part of your job, a tablet PC can be a great help. It duplicates the form, shape and feel of a form. I think we will see more large devices. A cell phone will remain a cell phone. There will not be a single device for all of a user's needs. People will carry a cell phone and another mobile device depending on what applications they use. What future wireless technologies are you excited about?
Today, the mobile infrastructure is unreliable and politically infected. There are multiple providers. Now we tolerate dropped calls. All of these things are holding back adoption. Most major carriers are moving toward faster infrastructure. Once the new 2.5 generation (2.5G) networks are in place and we have higher data rates and more reliability, then we will begin to see more sophisticated applications. And in that environment, once people go wireless they won't go back


Networking Decisions conference

The Best Web Links on wireless in the enterprise

How should IT professionals think about wireless?
IT departments are in a good position now. A year ago they were wary that every Christmas the CEO would give out 5,000 wireless devices as presents and then ask the IT department to hook them up. Now the economy is in favor of more control. They can turn on the technology tap carefully. They can better control the deployment of mobile devices. Security is also a greater priority now.

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