A genuine gee whiz

A typical year for a CTO might include making decisions for a new SFA (sales-force automation) system or perhaps a CRM system. And if you're lucky, you'll find a cool piece of software along the way. As early adopters, many CTOs have the latest gadgets (shorthand for "something that is cool but not very useful for business just yet"), but rarely does something come along that provides a visceral geek thrill supported by clear business justifications for implementation.

802.11 technology is that thing. Pull the plug, people. Cut the wires. You can read all the technical details about 802.11; you can understand the minutiae of how it all works; but in the end it still seems like magic, plain and simple, even for a jaded CTO. Don't ask questions -- just stand back in amazement.

802.11 is the kind of thing that requires very little demonstration. If you are in the wireless elite, just pull someone aside and show him or her the wonder. Hold the laptop high in the air, and like a magician performing a human levitation, move your hands in broad flourishes around the laptop to show that, no, there are no wires. Then take your pick: Load your favorite Web site, stream some video, download a file. It works. That first time you check your e-mail or load a Web page over a wireless LAN rivals the amazement of the first cell phone call you ever made: "Guess where I am? In the car!"

I just moved 20 feet across the room, and I'm still online! No wires!

Naysayers are out there. You'll hear from the bandwidth contingent: "802.11b only supports up to 11Mbps." Who cares? That's more than seven times what you can push down a T1 line. Even if that was a big deal, 802.11a is around the corner, and we'll all have 54Mbps, which should be more than enough. You'll hear from the security guys: "WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is not secure." Well, with some relatively inexpensive software (or free stuff on Linux) you can tunnel all your network traffic through SSH (Secure Shell), and you'll be covered. If that sounds too difficult now, just wait -- solutions are in development.

Maybe you're thinking: "I really want to implement a wireless 802.11 network at my company, but how do I justify it when it's just pure techno-lust?" That's the best news -- 802.11 technology is sensible, and it might save your company money and make your staff more productive. ROI analysis? You can do it on the back of a napkin.

At InfoWorld, we are planning to consolidate three floors into two within the next two months, knocking down a few walls and moving staff around. Reflexively, our facilities folks ask the question: Do we need to redo the LAN wiring, and how much will it cost? With 802.11, the answer is a clear "no." I will allow no new network wiring for desktop users on my LAN -- save it all for the back office, where no one has to look at the tangled mess.

802.11 means the freedom to work on the MobileStar network during an afternoon at Starbucks, sipping a latté and listening to music. (My personal record for number of Starbucks wireless LANs utilized in a 24-hour period: four). On the business side, it's the ability to access key business data in real time to make critical decisions -- no waiting to get back to your desk. You carry the network in your hand wherever you roam in the 802.11b office. Is that wall jack in the conference room a phone line or a data line? Who cares? At long last, your promise of the "ether" in Ethernet is here; your high-speed connection is in the air.

802.11 is cool -- period.

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