NEW ORLEANS -- According to a panel of experts that spoke this week at the CTIA Wireless 2003 conference, wireless network deployments are far more complicated than IT managers expect, but they can be extremely valuable if those complexities are understood.
Janet Boudris, chief executive officer of Princeton, N.J.-based Broadbeam Corp., a wireless platform provider, said that perhaps the worst mistake the wireless industry has made is in failing to be honest about the complexity of enterprise deployments, the dearth of reliable service and the costs that can be associated with these systems.
Wireless systems today are a maze of incompatibility. There are half a dozen air interface standards deployed in the U.S. alone. Even global system for mobile communication (GSM), which is the closest thing the wireless industry has to a global cellular air interface standard, runs on different frequencies in different countries. Billing varies from country to country and vendor to vendor. Devices and screens are radically different, which can alter a worker's ability to read or input data. And the networks themselves are notoriously unreliable.
Though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, Boudris is bullish about wireless. Wireless systems can help companies move closer to real-time data capture, which can help enterprises gain a competitive edge, she said.
A wireless deployment at Sun Microsystems Inc. typified the complexities that enterprises often face when they deal with cellular data on a global scale, said Gregg Smith, president of Baltimore, Md. wireless solutions provider Aether Systems Inc., which helped manage Sun's wireless network installation.
Sun wanted to record up-to-date information about chipsets in its servers around the globe. The best way to do that was by wirelessly enabling its 3,500-person field staff in 43 countries worldwide. But the task presented several challenges, Smith said.
Employees spoke different languages in each country. The wireless systems worked on widely varying air interfaces, and billing was radically different among the 30 carriers the company was working with.
According to Smith, Aether's role was to simplify all of these elements and make the service manageable so Sun could begin to calculate its return on investment. Perhaps the biggest challenge was working with the carriers to understand and standardize the pricing of the service around the globe, Smith said.
One of the keys to the success of the project was incremental deployment in pilots that helped Sun work out the bugs before it went global with the system, Smith said.
David Werezak, vice president of Research in Motion Ltd., the Waterloo, Ontario-based company behind the popular BlackBerry e-mail device, said that businesses should take advantage of the constant connection to the Internet provided by new 2.5G and 3G networks and look for applications that push relevant information to the user.
All of the panelists stressed that wireless deployments needed to have a solid business case before they can be moved forward.
Despite the challenges involved, Boudris encouraged companies to get their feet wet in wireless sooner rather than later.
"Those companies that are waiting for third-generation networks to be deployed are missing out on a great learning opportunity. The longer they wait, the longer it will take them to learn," Boudris said.
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