Wireless investments key to future success

The day when wireless network capabilities surpass those of their wired counterparts is fast approaching, according to one industry watcher. That means the time to invest in advanced wireless technology is now.

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Wireless technologies continue to make inroads at midmarket companies and enterprises alike -- which probably doesn't surprise anyone, at this point. In fact, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based analyst firm Forrester Research Inc., roughly half of all companies have already made some type of investment in wireless technology.

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Atlantic Aviation Services is one such company. The Plano, Texas-based aircraft and passenger services vendor began using wireless-enabled meters at two of its East Coast locations to track fuel inventories last year. The system has proved a success, and the company hopes to roll out wireless fuel tracking to all of its locations soon.

But Atlantic Aviation has no plans to provide universal wireless access to its 2,700 employees, at least not anytime soon, according to IT director Rob Davis. For Davis, who oversees the company's 17-person IT department, wireless LANs still don't measure up to wired networks in terms of stability, speed and bandwidth capabilities.

"Currently, I look at it as a backup and as a convenience technology for those that are traveling. I just don't know that I would be comfortable enough to rely upon that system for a primary data connection for all of our remote sites," Davis said. "For us, I don't see that happening yet."

Ubiquitous mobility on the way

The day when wireless LANs meet or even exceed the capabilities of their wired counterparts, however, is indeed coming, according to Forrester analyst Chris Silva. And CIOs need to begin planning for it.

If you're just now stepping into that phase of building out a wireless network that is going to provide pervasive connectivity, perhaps it's a good time to look at 802.11n technology.
Chris Silva
analystForrester Research Inc.
"When you start thinking about advanced services –- like Voice over IP going wireless, using location-based technology for physical security, for asset tracking, for employee tracking -- the wireless LAN is actually differentiated and becomes a much more critical business asset," Silva said, "and actually supersedes a wired network in terms of its utility."

Making a strong business case for investment in wireless technology is not an easy feat, however. In fact, Silva said he has yet to come across "good, quality data" that quantifies the ROI of implementing and deploying wireless technologies throughout an enterprise.

A better way to sell wireless technology to management, Silva said, is to focus on the future capabilities of the wireless LAN, namely its ability to support and enable other technologies that in turn will improve productivity.

"It's really looking at what the wireless network can become, versus what it is now. And the 'what-it-is-now picture' can very easily be painted as a duplicate asset to the wired network," Silva said. "But when you look to the future and its capabilities to support other services than just wireless access to data –- you know, email contacts and calendaring -– it becomes much more valuable."

Silva predicts ubiquitous mobility -– that is, the potential for an all-wireless enterprise -- is only five or six years away. But for that vision to become reality, Silva said, a couple of milestones need to be reached first: The faster, more reliable 802.11n and WiMax standards must replace current wireless standards, and client devices with 802.11n and WiMax capabilities built in need to be adopted on a wide scale.

Time for investment is now

CIOs can play their part and hasten the arrival of ubiquitous mobility by investing now in both next-generation wireless networks and client devices.

"If you're just now stepping into that phase of building out a wireless network that is going to provide pervasive connectivity, perhaps it's a good time, because it's a greenfield buildout, to look at 802.11n technology," Silva said. As for client devices, CIOs considering a laptop refresh should "think about buying mobile devices, laptops with WiMax capabilities."

Atlantic's Davis said he plans to look into laptops and other mobile devices with advanced features but believes wireless technology still has a lot to prove before he's willing to invest his limited IT dollars in a pervasive wireless LAN. "The technology will continue to provide increased ability to access larger bandwidth required applications on laptops," Davis said, "but there's still a lot of proof in the pudding whether they'll be able to fully replace a hard line system."

If Silva's forecast is correct, Davis may have his answer before too long.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jeff Kelly, Associate Editor.


This was first published in November 2007

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