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Despite security risks, analyst sees value in wireless experimentation

Wireless technology hasn't come close to reaching its full potential, but according to an analyst who spoke at Networking Decisions, now is a smart time for IT managers to start experimenting with the technology. Though reliability and security issues remain prevalent, they are not unsolvable.

CHICAGO -- Wireless technology has a long way to go, but one expert says now is a smart time for IT managers to get their feet wet.

In his presentation at TechTarget's Networking Decisions conference this week, Dennis Gaughan, research director for enabling technologies at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., encouraged companies to not only ask tough questions about wireless technology but also to think about the benefits the technology could provide.

Wireless local area networks have matured to the point where they are reliable, Gaughan said. And security vulnerabilities, which have been problematic, are not unsolvable.

However, security flaws in wireless LANs have received much attention and can require significant effort to address, and that has caused many companies to shy away from implementing them.

David Weinstein, an attendee and former IT director at the Chicago architecture firm Perkins & Will Inc., implemented a wireless LAN at his company, but later found that in doing so the company had inadvertently opened its network to anyone who cared to look.

Weinstein said that at a meeting, people in his company found they were able to access the wireless network of another nearby firm, Quaker Food and Beverages. Soon after that incident, Weinstein got a call from Quaker: employees from that company were looking in at his network as well.

"We shut it down right away," Weinstein said.

Gaughan said that security issues like these are not insurmountable, but the same cannot be said when it comes to cell networks. The reliability and availability of higher bandwidth, next-generation cell networks is likely to remain limited, but that fact should not deter anyone from trying out new applications.

"Don't wait for a bandwidth leap to determine when to begin working with mobile technology," he said.

Lloyd Petrey, an attendee data communications manager with the Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller, said that a number of the firm's attorneys now use Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry pager to access e-mail. Though some attorneys would like additional functionality, the BlackBerrys serve their basic needs, for the time being.

Gaughan said that some companies are developing applications that work when connected, as well as when they lose their network connection. He said these applications are beginning to address the reality of the poor coverage of wireless networks and can create real solutions for companies with mobile employees.

Lou Faraci, IT director of New England Mechanical Services, Inc. of Vernon, Conn., said that he sees value in wireless applications. Faraci, whose company provides environmental systems to buildings and has a large mobile field service staff, would like to see applications that allow his people to access information about the systems they are servicing, place orders wirelessly and provide dispatching services.

Weinstein said that mobile systems can have great value for architects and companies like Faraci's. They could take PC tablets into the field and remotely access databases of building drawings, something that would be very useful in assessing problems at the end of construction.

Donald Wick, vice president of information services at Milwaukee, Wis., loading dock safety system manufacturer Rite Hite Corp., also sees potential value in field service applications.

He said his field employees would not need a broad range of applications, but the ability to check e-mail and update information, thereby avoiding a second data entry step, would be helpful.

Wireless might not be ready for massive company-wide rollouts, he said, but chances are that people in the company are already using some wireless devices, and now is a great time to use trials and small rollouts to understand the technology's value.


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