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Welcome to the first issue of the IT Wireless Insider newsletter. The newsletter is part of your subscription to IT Wireless magazine, whose first issue is scheduled for release in early 2003. The biweekly Insider newsletter will highlight current issues and technologies that affect IT strategic thinking about the deployment and use of wireless technology in the enterprise. We hope to help you make sense of current developments so you can better shape your own deployment strategy. As part of that, please feel free to give us your feedback and suggestions so we can serve you in the best possible way.
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The Security Conundrum
Will addressing IT's fears scare IT off even more? That's an issue those promoting wireless security need to consider carefully. At IT Wireless, we've seen many vendors promote their security options for wireless networks this summer, from VPNs to encyption and authentication techniques. And the vendors are of course responding to the strong concerns that IT and network managers voiced last fall and winter about the real limits of the 802.11b standard's Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol -- a misnamed protocol if there ever was one.
But to sell security products, security vendors need to raise doubts about wireless security. And given IT's skittishness, especially as resources are tight in the tough economy and budgets are even tighter, it's easy for companies to just say "forget about it all." Infrastructure vendors and industry analysts have noted this possible boomerang effect among enterprise buyers. It's even more pronounced with government IT, says Sage Research analyst Yardena Rand, who's been surveying government on their IT plans and priorities: "There's still the perception that wireless can be a real security risk. These days, that can't be tolerated."
Fearing a backlash, vendors and analysts alike are downplaying security fears, saying that wireless security is essentially solved by following good LAN security practices: use firewalls, VPNs, authentication, and so on.
IT must assure security, and wireless security products can help do that. But IT also needs to know that wireless LANs are not an endless pit of security nightmares -- nor that the solutions to ensure secrity are expensive, complex installations that eliminate any return on a wireless investment. The security industry will need to be careful in how it positions the threat so it doesn't obliterate the fundamental wireless promise in trying to address that threat. And IT needs to know that wireless is more secure than they believe, and security can be ensured using technologies and techniques they're already familiar with.
Wireless Carriers Rediscover Cellular Data
Three years ago, cellular data was going to be the next big thing, with next-generation GPRS and 3G networks bringing the Internet to cell phones and PDAs, making it truly universal -- a basic part of people's lives, not just desktop experience. That didn't happen, as the network build-outs got delayed and the telecom sector imploded. But the carriers have build much of these networks in the major U.S. cities, and starting this summer started pushing new data-oriented services to the young-adult and traveling professional audiences.
IT is next. Wireless carriers realize that enterprises are large consumers of wireless services -- that is, cell phones. They also realize that the allure of 802.11 hot spots has renewed the interest of many enterprise execs, marketing staff, and traveling salespeople, deliverypeople, and technical support staff in wireless connectivity on the road. Given the cellular system's reach, it's a natural medium.
But don't expect it to happen quickly. "I'm not expecting a torrent [of data applications], just a gradual rising," said Steven Carter, CEO of Cingular Wireless at a recent Garage Technology Ventures event. "I think in a couple of years we'll be surprised how much we use [cellular] wireless for nonvoice applications." While he thinks the term "killer app" is an overstatement, Carter sees two applications that are "already there": email and desktop access, citing Research in Motion's 800,000 users as proof. Nextel Communications was the first wireless carrier to push data services for the enterprise more than a year ago, which made sense given its corporate user base. But now AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile (the former VoiceStream Wireless) say they'll have data applications for the enterprise in 2003.
While Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile haven't said what those applications might be, email and simple access to databases and enterprise applications are a good bet. Specialty applications, such as those for field service, are likely to lag, except at Nextel Communications, which began offering such solutions over a year ago.
AT&T Wireless is taking the general email and access route. In a partnership with Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, it plans to release WorkWare software this fall that lets notebooks and Pocket PC-based phone access email and corporate data that resides behind firewalls. The down side is that this is a Microsoft-dependent solution, so enterprises will need to use the Microsoft Mobile Information Server as the data platform. Given Unix's dominance as the enterprise server platform, and what many view as Microsoft's backpedaling on MIS over the last two years, IT may decide to limit or even skip wireless data access via AT&T's WorkWare rather than invest in new infrastructure from Microsoft.
Sprint PCS is also aiming at general email and access. Its PCS Vision service is now offered as an option along with a Novatel cellular modem in some Toshiba laptops. PCS Vision can access both Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes email and calendar information. But it cannot access corporate data other than these.
No matter what the offerings, carriers still have a ways to go before most enterprises will see the promises of cellular data services actually delivered. Coverage of the new GPRS and 3G data networks remains limited, latency issues continue, and prices are exorbitant.
Another issue that all the cellular carriers are wrestling with is 802.11. While GPRS and 3G will provide decent connections for cell phones and PDAs, it provides mere modem-like speeds for standard PC applications. By contrast, 802.11 provides an office-like experience for notebook users. The carriers aren't in the Wi-Fi business, but "it's an interesting technology," Carter says. "We believe there's a gold nugget there, perhaps working with our wireline partners [SBC and BellSouth]. I think it's got a place -- it's more for the laptop or PDA user. We're still searching for the business case."
While Carter's Cingular Wireless searches, T-Mobile has already found it. The German-owned carrier sees 802.11 as the right technology for traveling and mobile staff when they're away from a desk but able to sit in one place to work for a while. Cellular data is the right technology when they're not able to sit down for a bit. Almost a year ago, T-Mobile bought MobileStar, an 802.11 hot-spot provider, and recently relaunched the service under the T-Mobile brand at nearly 2,000 Starbucks cafés, as well as at other locations. "Our vision is to replace the wired network," says T-Mobile USA chairman John Stanton. By mid-2003, T-Mobile expects to have an integrated phone that switches between cellular and 802.11 hot-spot networks, providing one bill, says Nick Sears, T-Mobile's vice president of product management. A card in the phone would handle the switching and could be put in a notebook or PDA PC Card as well. What's kept T-Mobile from doing this earlier? The integration of the MobileStar and VoiceStream technologies and systems, he says. Other carriers should pay attention.
The Latest New Wireless Products and Tech
While much of the attention on wireless LAN technologies has centered around inexpensive wireless access points and radios for home offices and small offices -- a play for the consumer market that is more open to adopting new technologies -- it's clear that the wireless industry is now targeted enterprises with their greater spending and, frankly, strong need to reduce costs while being more flexible with network connectivity options. Among the recent technology and product announcements of interest to IT are the following:
Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Latest in the Wireless Marketplace
Gartner recently projected that the global wireless LAN market will approach $2.8 billion in 2003, up from $2.1 billion in 2002. The market should grow through 2007, Gartner says. While $2.8 billion is a nice number, most of that market is comprised of Wi-Fi access points and cards. Security, management, and other applications, as well as more diverse hardware and wireless service providers, will need to be a notable part of the market to show that Wi-Fi has become an integral part of enterprise connectivity. It's great to see so many individual, home, and departmental users spend a couple hundred bucks to go wireless, but this $2.8 billion is still an early-adopter market. It shows the demand for wireless, but not yet the diversity that IT will seek to confirm its investments. I do expect that to change, though, as wireless technology becomes integrated in laptop PCs, forcing IT to deal with it. Gartner says that 10 percent of all notebooks sold in 2002 had wireless LAN technology, and it predicts that 68 percent will by 2007. The fact that Windows XP and Mac OS both include wireless networking software will also push its adoption outside the home.
From IT Wireless
As an IT professional, you know that wireless technologies such as 802.11 promise to provide significant benefits to your organization. Before you go full steam ahead, you need answers to your critical concerns about wireless LANs. Questions concerning security, compatibility and best practices, to name just a few. IT Wireless magazine is now here to help you figure it all out. Look for the debut issue in January 2003. Get the included email IT Wireless Insider newsletter now.
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