Why? Because WLANs can
Apart from a less-than-established TCO/ROI picture for WLANs, the biggest issue holding back enterprise deployments has been security. Indeed, all of the issues surrounding WLAN security seen in recent years have served to reinforce general awareness of the requirement for network security overall, and that's a clear benefit regardless. Nonetheless, WLAN security has now been largely addressed, via both mechanisms within the standard that secure the airlink -- the connection between the user and a WLAN access point (AP) -- and the end-to-end connection between the user and network resources. The latter is easily handled via (VPNs, now very common in the enterprise.
Another big issue delaying adoption was the availability of WLAN systems truly designed for enterprise deployments. Today's enterprise-class WLANs are usually based on wireless switches or similar appliances, and provide the management and control needed to roll out even very large deployments. Better integration with wired LANs and their management systems is on the way. Voice is also going to become a killer app for enterprise WLANs, especially as dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handsets become available over the next few years.
WLANs are at least partially sneaking into companies as a result of what I call the "Macintosh Effect." Remember the early days of the Mac, when staff members would bring their Macs from home because they were easier to use than PCs? Well, WLANs have proven very popular in the residence because most homes are much more difficult to wire than businesses. Therefore, those enjoying the convenience of wireless in the home, now want the same access at work. Apart from the threat posed by home APs brought in and connected to enterprise networks (the so-called "rogue access points"), many businesses are now responding to this demand by enabling official and properly secured WLANs at work. And, by the way, you can deal with that rogue AP problem. Intrusion-detection systems, often included in LAN systems but also available as standalone products, can now find them quite easily in most cases.
So if you don't have a WLAN today, you will soon. The benefits are enormous, and once you go wireless, you won't go back.
Craig J. Mathias is founder of the Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing.