Wires Unplugged: The Truth About Wireless Technology

With Microsoft's .NET technology platforms and XML Web services, you can create a seamless information environment that lets users stay connected to their information wirelessly from any mobile device. Whether the data users need is on the Internet, their network, or another rich-client device under their control, they can always work with up-to-date information.

However, in today's economic situation, implementing wireless technology probably isn't one of your company's top priorities. Your CEO might be asking, "Why should I budget for mobile wireless connectivity implementation, and what is my Return on Investment (ROI)?" The answer is that the research company Gartner Group forecasts that mobile phones and handheld computers will outnumber notebook and desktop machines by more than two to one by 2005, and IDC estimates that the mobile enterprise application market will reach $150 billion a year by 2003. In addition, recent studies indicate that financial payback for implementing a wireless infrastructure happens quickly. An ROI study that an independent market research firm conducted for the Wireless LAN Association determined that the average time to fully recover the initial costs of wireless LAN installations is 8.9 months.

Businesses can leverage their existing IT investments, technologies, and applications and incorporate wireless technology to increase efficiency, provide faster customer response times, improve productivity and customer satisfaction, and gain an edge over the competition. In a study that the Yankee Group conducted, nearly 20 percent of the workforce of large companies is mobile. That percentage includes sales personnel, field engineers, technicians, and traveling executives. Furthermore, a Gartner Group Strategic Analysis report showed that investing in effective wireless technology makes mobile workers up to 30 percent more productive.

To stay abreast of the latest wireless technology and to experience its benefits, my company developed a wireless and mobile customer relationship management (CRM) solution. Users can access the system remotely through desktop computers, mobile laptops, wireless personal digital assistants (PDAs), Internet cell phones, BlackBerry RIM devices, and even regular telephone lines (using Text-to-Speech voice translation). Using Microsoft's .NET Framework, we developed Web services and Web pages powered by ASP.NET. Wireless LANs and wireless WANs can access the back-end database, which has offline synchronization capabilities in case Internet connectivity isn't available when data is entered. For more information about this solution, see "Adding VoiceXML to Our .NET Wireless Repertoire," "Adding VoiceXML to Our .NET Wireless Repertoire, Part 2," and the crmCentral white paper on the Interknowlogy site.

One important question that your Chief Technology Officer (CTO) might ask is, "Is wireless secure?" Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that two computer hackers drove around Silicon Valley with a wireless LAN laptop and could browse other unsecured LANs. However, as long as network administrators ensure that organizations take the same security precautions with a wireless LAN that they take with a wired

LAN—including user authorization, physical security, VPN, and encryption—they can prevent illicit tapping into wireless networks.

Reality Check

Now that we have the CEO's and CTO's attention, let me set some expectations. Currently, wireless is slow. With data speeds of about one-third that of a 56Kbps modem (with the exception of Ricochet, which provides sporadic 128Kbps coverage in a few cities), wireless connectivity isn't yet meant for surfing the Internet, playing multimedia videos, or having an always-on connection. Wireless today is about retrieving email and other vital corporate information.

However, when third-generation (3G) wireless technology arrives in the United States, the wireless experience will improve dramatically. At the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless Conference in March 2001, wireless-industry experts discussed 3G technology, which includes Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) and CDMA2000 (based on existing CDMA networks). These networks provide data-transfer rates from 144Kbps to 2Mbps and will be available between 2003 and 2005. At the conference, CTIA President and CEO Tom Wheeler performed a speed test comparison between a 56Kbps wired modem in a laptop and a CDMA2000 1XRTT wireless phone connected to a laptop. Actual throughput was 38Kbps and 51Kbps, respectively. Wheeler performed a similar speed test between DSL and wireless 1XEV (which will be available in 2002). Throughput for that test was speeds of 434Kbps and 657Kbps, respectively! Although the demonstrations were compelling, these wireless speeds aren't yet reality. Those of us who crave wireless WAN (WWAN) are left with excruciatingly slow data speeds of only 19.2Kbps, with actual throughput being less than half of that.

Wireless is currently a very exciting industry. However, a lot of confusion still exists regarding what the de facto standard will be. Clearly, we have many wireless network choices and technologies, including CDMA, Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD), Bluetooth, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi), and the new 3G networks. Fast, anytime, anywhere access to vital data is and will be essential in staying ahead of the competition and ensuring high customer satisfaction. Consumers and business users alike will soon demand fast wireless connectivity as loudly as they do telephone lines and Starbucks coffee in the morning!

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