Wireless assumptions upset the establishment

I should have seen it coming. Everything I knew about the perils of assumed knowledge was about to come true.

Barely five minutes after I’d finished my speech on wireless technology came this quiet word from one of my friends in the audience: “People were asking me what hotspots were. You should have explained what a hotspot was, at least in passing.”

I was floored. Here we had a large audience of sales and marketing people who’d come to learn, over a hot coffee and assorted pastries, exactly how they can use wireless for purely capitalist motives. But was it not safe to assume at least some surface-level understanding, given their obvious interest in the subject? Under what rock had these people been hiding?

Fine - let me set the record straight. Hotspots are the name given to locations in which you can gain access to the Internet via a wireless connection. Typically located in a cafe or airport lounge, hotspots are enabled by a wireless standard called 802.11b, also known as Wi-Fi (for wireless fidelity).

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, it’s struck me that my experience represents something more than executive naivete.

While we in the technology business enjoy debating the relative merits of 802.11b vs 802.11g, sales, marketing and business executives simply don’t care. They’re thinking about the business case for wireless applications.

We’re at a point now where technology users have access to a variety of generally stable wireless networks and mobile devices. And on the vendor side, engineers are massing around the idea of how to develop desktop applications to run on any mobile device.

Sure, it’s a serendipitous convergence of technologies. But profit-focused executives only care about getting access to the applications. It just needs to work.

And in that context, IT managers and CIOs should assume all’s right with the world and stay focused on evaluating products, solutions and various ROI metrics, right?

Wrong. It’s another “assumed knowledge” trap.

The quantum shift happening right under IT’s nose is that when it comes to wireless computing, executives are making their own decisions.

They’re out shopping at their local IT retailer with family and friends on the weekend. They’re buying phones, PDAs, CDMA cards, and signing up to 3G wireless services to run their notebooks from anywhere. And that’s to say nothing of the iBurst wireless broadband revolution that’s only just begun.

Yep, it’s an exciting time for corporate execs with Amex cards. It’s also a worrying time for the control-freak IT manager caught in the crossfire of Australia’s grassroots wireless movement. Resting safely in the knowledge of hotspots and wireless technology never felt so quietly unnerving.

Mark Jones is deputy managing director at IDG Communications. Visit his Weblog: http://filtered.typepad.com/markjones

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