Despite all the talk of networks going wireless in 2003, it will be some time before the enterprise enjoys the promise of ubiquitous IP (internet protocol) connectivity, according to Meta Group senior research analyst Bjarne Munch.
Munch, who specialises in networking and wireless, says although there has been a significant amount of hesitation adopting the nascent technology, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"With new lower-cost wireless technology coming onto the market, we will see a lot of positioning next year but there won't be a boom in 2004," Munch says. "The wireless space needs to viewed as a whole. Wireless LANs have mainly taken off in SMEs while the larger enterprises have been waiting to see how the security standards, which are still undergoing 'vendor battling', evolve."
Munch predicts wireless within the enterprise should take off towards the end of 2004.
"Wireless security can be implemented properly but there is a significant amount of integration required," he says. "This means increased costs and more time spent with deployment which contribute to the reluctance."
From the business case stance for replacing wired networks with wireless, Munch says it's not recommended.
"It will be some time before the required bandwidth is supported by wireless networks," he says. "The organisations that can find a business case, such as those in hospitality, have already started migrating."
The real issue with wireless is which technology is going to become pervasive, Munch says.
"Some companies require a fully ubiquitous national network so expect to see positioning in 2004 when carriers will test the market," he says.
IDC Australia's senior mobile and wireless analyst, Warren Chaisatien, says wireless and mobility is already widespread but more than 90 % of companies have no overall wireless data strategy.
"CIOs understand the qualitative benefits of wireless but can have difficulty quantifying the benefits," Chaisatien says.
"To help, look at wireless with a focus on business strategy." Chaisatien says wireless technology is good enough to mobilise business applications but the issues of coverage, high price points, and a highly fragmented set of standards need to be resolved.
IDC research indicates that at least 10% of SMEs and about 30% of enterprises already operate a wireless LAN. This is predicted to rise to about 25 and 50% respectively in 2004.
One carrier looking to close the coverage gap is Personal Broadband Australia (PBBA) which has completed local trials of its iBurst, last-mile, wireless broadband service.
PBBA's CEO Charles Reed says the last-mile is the last bastion of control by Telstra.
"The struggle is getting out to everyone," Reed says.
"Satellite is expensive and is not good for two-way traffic, while 802.11 is great for wireless LANs.
"There isn't one technology that is the answer." Reed says ubiquitous coverage is about productivity as people are inherently mobile.
"If you have to travel to the network, you loose time," he says. "There is room for wireless and fixed networks but the vibrancy is around mobility. Different network options give people the ability to choose to use a type of technology anywhere they go."
PBBA plans to have its iBurst wireless broadband service operational in all capitals by the end of 2003.
Wireless networks are an extension of an enterprise's existing infrastructure but simply giving someone a device can be as inefficient as paper, according to Microsoft's mobility business group manager Calum Russell.
"There are a lot of simple efficiencies with wireless as it's not rocket science," Russell says. "However, enterprises need to do their homework to avoid the common problem of devices being purchased without direction." Russell recommends "time and motion studies" of mobile workers to determine how much time it will save.
"When a person is entering data, talk to them about how this could be improved," he says.
Microsoft is touting a mobile application platform that is agnostic to the type of wireless network protocol.
"The application smarts need to be there regardless of the connection type — wireless LAN, GPRS, or no connection at all," Russell says.
"With so many applications you can get lost, so we find that most companies do point solutions. This must be done carefully to avoid the age-old, silos problem." Russell says mobile sales and CRM applications are the most common in a "very healthy market".
Another wireless application that has received much attention this year is radio frequency identification, or RFID. IBM's Asia-Pacific wireless leader Will Duckworth says the technology is ready and piloting it is the way to go.
"This year we have seen a lot of talk about RFID, but not much implementation," Duckworth says.
"In 2004 we will see more use of the technology as retailers are demanding it. RFID has got to happen." Duckworth said 2004 will bring a shake up of standards and vendor compliance.
"Gauge your business requirements and go with appropriate standards," he says. "For example, with 802.11g becoming commoditised it shows the standard has gained acceptance."