Wireless brainspace

Is wireless mobility pushing its way into the Australian enterprise IT brain space - and I'm not referring to the alleged neuron-frying potential of mobile phone microwave emissions.

Within the enterprise your choice includes 802.11b wireless LANs. But it's fair to say that corporate wallets have not opened up wide for this technology. The reasons are fairly clear - and argued strongly. They are cost, in-situ wiring, bandwidth and security.

Cost is a contentious one, with industry argument ranging from wireless being three times the cost of 'wired', to 'greenfield' sites actually being cheaper, at least according to the likes of Adel Al-Saleh, who is IBM's general manager of its global wireless business. For wireless, IBM sees an $US18 billion opportunity worldwide, and claims extension of enterprise applications to wireless devices is now top of IT manager concerns. IBM is pushing its consulting services along with the EveryPlace versions of WebSphere and DB2, among other technologies. However, Al-Saleh concedes that wireless enterprise networking is at the early-adopter stage. He cited a foreign example of 'extending enterprise apps' into to the wireless world. This was a trial at Bell Canada, where 10 field technicians, with wearable PCs strapped to their waists and screens on their wrists can download 'stripped down' job schematics, rather than collect work specs from a depot.

The 11Mbit/sec of throughput 802.11b is considered by some as inadequate for file and app sharing, though it does handle e-mail and the Web. While each 802.11b access point can communicate with dozens of mobile units, speed and reliability of connection scales down in proportion to distance between mobile device and access point. Is this a problem? Also, it's a pity that the powerful access points also transmit openly to drive-by scanning devices (see, Just Driving By, CW November 19, 6s). The ease with which this sort of snooping is achieved is echoed by Kim Valois, a director of global information security services for the Computer Science Corporation (Australia), who claims that of the WLANs deployed across Australia, most do not have encryption enabled. He sees problems in the 'human' slackness associated with not bothering to read the security manuals on how 'to set up the security within the box'.

The IDC 2001 Forecast for Management survey of top IT managers suggests that wireless enabling enterprise apps falls within your domain. This survey queried the degree of responsibility IT managers have for applications, data networking and mobile telephones. The answer for most of these levels of responsibility is - generally - a lot.

The question is, is implementing wireless enabling enterprise applications a serious priority? Drop me a line at David_Beynon@idg.com.au

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